Newtown on the move

Posted On Monday, 25 April 2005 02:00 Published by eProp Commercial Property News
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The Johannesburg Art Gallery will be in illustrious company once the collections are moved to its new home in Newtown. But what is to become of its present home should not be ignored.

Property-Housing-ResidentialWow, I ran into a lot of flack regarding my tongue-in-cheek suggestions for the future of the Johannesburg Art Gallery (JAG). Why are we all so serious around here? I think that the proposal to relocate the gallery collection to an appropriate Newtown venue is a good one.

A number of people have soundly castigated me for believing that more people will visit a Newtown gallery rather than visit the current location. But they will. Talk to the folk at the Oriental Plaza - they will tell you that their trading has increased dramatically since the opening of the Nelson Mandela Bridge and the M1 on-and-off ramps. Look at the huge increases in Newtown audiences - 120,000 more people in 2004 from 2003.

Easy and safe access is critical and the JAG suffers from the perception that it is difficult and dangerous to get to and that it is in a bad area - and perceptions are reality until they can be proved otherwise!

I also don't buy the statement, from more than one Citichat reader, that all Joburgers are Philistines and they will not support art whether in Newtown or Joubert Park. (Only some are Philistines!)

The concern I was trying to voice was that unless there is a real use for the current JAG building once the collection, or the majority of it, is moved, the building will be allowed systematically to implode on itself as a result of our national malaise of not providing a realistic maintenance budget. That would be tragic.

So, my tongue-in-cheek suggestion was to turn it into a use that would demand adequate maintenance and a use that in itself would leverage a massive effect on a really gritty area of the city. So, you don't fancy a Gracie Mansions or a White House? Okay, but let's see that the building is used in a way that celebrates its history and its uniqueness and let us not allow it to end up as another piece of urban detritus!

Turbine Hall

Now let's look at the possible receiving side of the city, Newtown. We tend to talk loosely about Turbine Hall when there are, in fact, three buildings on the site in question. The very large, broken-windowed and generally more dilapidated building on the corner of Miriam Makeba and Jeppe Streets was the Turbine Hall, while the red-roofed structure set back from Ntemi Piliso Street was the South Boiler House. Between them is the North Boiler House.
As a matter of interest, Turbine Hall still houses at its southern end functioning, stand-by turbo-jet turbines that are used to top up the city's electricity supply during peak demand.

The buildings, built in the late 1920s and early 1930s, are an eyesore and have been such for more than the past decade - the Inner City Renewal Strategy would classify them collectively as a sinkhole. The reason for their current state lies firmly in the greed of a city council of many years ago that saw the site as a goose that could lay a golden egg and the buildings as dispensable.

The 1990 proposal to develop a "retail, entertainment and office development" on the site, Turbine Square Precinct, never happened and, instead of filling the city's coffers and being a major redevelopment project, we have been sitting with another example of demolition by neglect for some 15 years.

But Turbine Hall, in particular, provides an excellent example of the city's industrial architecture of the 1920s and 30s - with a cathedral-like, soaring space although now it is enclosed by a crumbling structure. In many other cities developers would kill for the space that the building provides - the glorious space at the Tate Modern gallery in London comes to mind. The building, obviously with adaptations, is a spectacular setting for showing off the city's great collection of art.

Sci Bono Discovery Centre

In addition, isn't it great when a major corporate shuns building or buying a drab modern structure, choosing instead to invest in the city's heritage? AngloGold Ashanti, with great vision and commitment to the inner city, will be developing the site into its corporate head office and from what I have seen, will provide a magnificent addition to the inner city.

To the west of Turbine Hall is the exciting Sci Bono Discovery Centre housed in what we knew as the Electric Workshop building. However, some fascinating research by historian Sue Krige reveals that the buildings actually housed the city's first power station, built in 1906. This is another of the great historic industrial "space" buildings of the city now lovingly refurbished into Sci Bono. Sci is from "science" and Bono (pronounced "bore-nor") is a TshiVenda word meaning "vision". Together they relate to Marcel Proust's statement that "the real voyage of discovery comes not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes".

The Sci Bono Discovery Centre opened last year after extensive refurbishment after the building was neglected for years. It closed down temporarily at the end of 2004 for some further renovations.

A new section being constructed on its eastern side will house a restaurant and fast food facility, a VIP boardroom and a 300-seater auditorium as well as an Education Resource Centre for teachers and pupils. Sci Bono will be a place where pupils and teachers can experience and discover through a variety of interactive and entertaining displays and exhibits, scientific phenomena they generally only read about in text books.

Classroom lessons will be brought to life in a fun and entertaining way, translating the curriculum from paper to practice through innovative programmes. Various aspects of contemporary science and technology will be explored via exhibits in ways that make them fun and interesting. The extensions will be complete towards the end of the year, but Sci Bono will open again on 3 May and will host National Science Week from 7 to 14 May. Open seven days a week from 9am to 4pm, it is really well worth a visit.

Central Place

Directly north of Sci Bono are the sites known as Five and Six Central Place. Number Five is directly south of the Workers' Museum and covers about 1,500 square metres. It connects to Number Six (6,250 square metres in size), directly to its east, on the corner of Jeppe and Miriam Makeba Streets. The development of these two sites will result in 20,000 square metres of mixed use, the first fully mixed use development in Newtown offering retail, commercial and residential space. It will include two cinemas, restaurants, a gym and other retail as well as extensive parking.

C-Max Investments comprises the well-known developer,Zenprop, together with BEE partner Ikamva Labantu Investments. Their development will have a dramatic effect on the skyline of Newtown. The upper income residential component is spread over four tower blocks 23, 16, eight and four storeys in height set on a double storey podium.

Concern has been expressed as to whether the project's scale will be inappropriate in relation to the contiguous Worker's Museum and Library, but the architects appear to have treated the design sympathetically to these low-rise heritage buildings. Construction is slated to start this year.

Another new project that should break ground this year is the interestingly named Majestic Development. This involves the demolition of a number of buildings on the east side of the Market Theatre Precinct and the construction of retail, commercial and residential spaces over three levels. The 2,400 square metres of ground floor retail space will include restaurants, a 900 square metre supermarket and some national chain retail shops. The residential space evidently will be mostly 45 square metre studio units. This development is by Pace Properties with BEE partners Motseng Investments.

In the same precinct of the Market Theatre, Kippies, now hoarded around for safety, has had its impending demolition order reprieved. Demolition was envisaged because of potential danger to the public by the threat of the building collapsing because of slippage of its foundations, which are evidently on a fault line. Some quick-footed intervention by the Gauteng provincial government heritage authority has resulted in the building being declared a heritage asset and a substantial amount of money must now be raised to underpin the building to ensure that it will not collapse.


Still under the heading of proposed projects is talk of a tourist hotel to be developed on the north-east corner of Jeppe and Miriam Makeba Streets, diagonally opposite the C-Max development and opposite Turbine Hall.

The first phase of the Johannesburg Housing Company's Brickfields development is in its final construction stage and about 1,000 people will be moving in within the next few months. Work has started on the second phase. While the sheer numbers of people in the area will put pressure on delivering a whole host of services, retail, and so forth, you can see from the other developments in the pipeline that the market is starting to react to future demand.

Just completed is Number One Central Place, on the corner of Henry Nxumalo (previously Goch) and Jeppe Streets. It is a mixed use commercial and retail development, with a total of 3,850 square metres of offices and 850 square metres of retail space over basement parking.

The Gauteng Tourism Authority (GTA) will take up 1,870 square metres from 1 May. It will occupy three floors of the new development, including a 60-seater auditorium. The GTA will be relocating from its current premises in Rosebank to this far more appropriate location, a move that underscores Newtown's tourism potential.

Kaya FM is also planning to move from Rosebank to this prime location in Newtown. I understand that 1 Central Place retail letting has been excellent, with a number of new coffee shops and eateries included in the tenant list.

The area just north of Brickfields is currently subject to a new development framework that envisages mixed use development north of the historic Park Station, up to the railway lines. With the use of Turbine Hall becoming clearer, the Park Station structure may well become a new venue for launches and functions.

Newtown is hot and venue utilisation and audience attendance figures underpin this. Evening audience attendances are up 73% and daytime visitors are up 67%.

Between daytime and evening visitors, 120,000 more people visited Newtown performances and attractions in 2004 than in 2003. That's an increase of 10,000 a month! Great stuff!


Last modified on Saturday, 17 May 2014 15:30

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