Gallagher revives its democratic tradition

Posted On Friday, 16 July 2004 02:00 Published by eProp Commercial Property News
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Midrand complex has a win-win' plan for hosting the Pan African Parliament.

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Gallagher Estate, the convention centre owned by Johnnic Holdings, has come a long way in the past 10 years.

In 1994, the sprawling conference venue in Midrand, north of Johannesburg, was home to the operations centre of the Independent Elections Commission during SA's first democratic elections.

Now, a decade later, it is to house another experiment in African democracy, the first Pan African Parliament.

A big difference between the two is that the 1994 poll was unequivocally a victory for democracy, while there remain some who are doubtful on the contribution to be made by the Pan African Parliament.

Where it will almost certainly make a contribution is to Gallagher Estate's bottom line and the convention centre is about to embark on a frenetic remodelling to accommodate the parliament.

Gallagher was chosen ahead of the Sandton Convention Centre to become the parliament's temporary home for five years, until a permanent building is constructed.

And with some innovative thinking, says Gallagher MD Andrew Dunkley, a solution was found that will cost the South African government half as much as it would have spent on its original plan, which was to take over existing exhibition space and convert it into offices and an auditorium for the period.

Instead, says Dunkley, an office block on the estate, that has stood unfinished for most of the past decade, will be completed to create the office space for 500 people that is required by the parliament. An old exhibition hall that had been converted into warehousing space will be remodelled as an auditorium for the parliament's plenary sessions.

The auditorium will need to accommodate up to 2000 people, significantly more than the 420 that can fit into the biggest existing auditorium. "But people often need to seat 500 or 600 in an auditorium style, and this will complement our offering after the Pan African Parliament moves out," Dunkley says.

"It's a win-win situation. We complete the office block and they get in at half the price. They (the foreign affairs department) were really chuffed they had a much bigger budget in mind."

He will not disclose the value to Gallagher of the deal with foreign affairs, but says it will definitely give a boost to Gallagher's improving financial situation.

Gallagher, one of Johnnic's noncore assets, paid off all external loans and posted an 11% increase in turnover in the year to March.

It will cost R70m to do the work needed to get the site ready, "but from then on, a rental deal like this goes almost straight to the bottom line", Dunkley says. "We do have some surplus cash at the moment, so it's a very good opportunity to generate a return on that."

Once the parliament moves to its permanent home in five years' time, Dunkley hopes to be able to let out the office space and use the refurbished exhibition hall as a conference and event venue. "I don't know what the rental market will be like in five years' time, but we'll see."

The first sitting of the Pan African Parliament was scheduled for October, but has been brought forward to September, initiating a mad rush to get temporary accommodation ready in time.

Temporary offices will be built in one of the estate's smallest and least-used exhibition halls. An existing auditorium, which already has translation booths and media space, will be modified for the parliament's plenary session.

"They wanted the public auditorium to hold 500 people, but we'll be able to manage only 150 for the first couple of sittings," Dunkley says.

Construction of the office block will be finished by the end of the year and the auditorium by February, in time for next year's sittings.

Interestingly, the decision to bring the Pan African Parliament to Gallagher has re vived the idea of building a hotel on the estate.

"We've had a few proposals for hotels in the past, and those are beginning to crystallise. It would not be at our risk, but if a developer is prepared to take the risk, we may be interested," Dunkley says.

"This project may just help push those plans along."

Last modified on Thursday, 17 April 2014 13:31

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