Wits campus retail viability

Posted On Wednesday, 20 March 2002 03:01 Published by
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TRADING has begun at Wits University's R20m campus retail development, The Matrix, in Braamfontein.
TRADING has begun at Wits University's R20m campus retail development, The Matrix, in Braamfontein.

The Matrix is part of a R100m plan by the university to help meet funding challenges and will attempt to unlock value in the campus's underutilised property.

However, there is concern that the centre might be too big to be sustained by the university's population.

The university entered a 30-year lease with a joint venture between property developers RFC and GHC Africa. It gives the university the right to buy The Matrix after 30 years.

With the backing of Cape of Good Hope Bank, the developers pumped R16m into turning what was the student union building into a glittering retail development.

It offers about 2500m² of lettable space, which, RFC MD Jacqui Mayer, says is almost fully occupied.

Its 30 small shops are dominated by fast-food outlets. Tenants include 7Eleven, Steers-Debonairs, GSM Cellular and a book shop.

Three retail banks are represented. FNB and Nedbank have opened campus branches, while Standard Bank maintains an ATM machine in the development.

Mayer says negotiations for a student bar are at an advanced stage.

'Our plan is geared towards bringing life back to the campus,' says Mayer.

Retail activity will be complemented by entertainment activities centred on radio station YFM, which has also taken space at the centre.

The university's agreement with the developers extends to other fast-food outlets around the university, including ones in Senate House on West Campus and on the medical school campus in Parktown.

Concern about the viability of the new arrangement hinges on the size of the university's population, which is about 25000. Observers doubt whether this population, dominated by students the majority of whom live off campus can sustain the centre.

Another negative factor is that the university activity more or less grinds to a halt during weekends and academic breaks. If it wants outsiders to keep the centre alive , it is going to have to drop or change some of its security measures.

Publisher: Business Day
Source: Business Day

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