Landlords commit cash.

Posted On Thursday, 03 October 2002 03:01 Published by eProp Commercial Property News
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Braamfontein landlords pledge at least R200m to its revival. But where is Wits?

Jim McLeanLandlords in Braamfontein, a key commercial and residential suburb on the doorstep of Johannesburg's central business district, are pumping at least R200m into an improvement programme. But the biggest landlord of all - the University of the Witwatersrand - has opted to stay out of it.

In cities around the world, university participation usually means a flowering of both cultural and commercial life.

'We tried to get them to join but they decided to stay out,' says Jim McLean, MD of Liberty Properties, one of the suburb's big landlords.

LibProp and other big owners have formed a city improvement district (CID). The project has been divided into phases and forms part of the broader improvement of the city.

Work has started on the eastern part of Ameshoff Street in Braamfontein, where paper company Sappi is constructing a parking arcade to be shared with the Civic Theatre. Sappi is also upgrading the head office it bought when the other owners came on board the CID. Its brief includes urban design, cleaning, security and improving public spaces.

Other members are SABMiller and the borough's biggest commercial landlord, life assurer Liberty Life.

As the link between Johannesburg's northern suburbs and the CBD, Braamfontein, which has decayed but not as badly as its downtown neighbour, can play an important part in changing perceptions of the city.

The regeneration of Braamfontein is supported by enough large tenants and landlords to form the CID, which is a statutory body and can force the involvement of others. But the boundaries of the CID stop before Wits. 'It would have been a waste of time to talk to landlords who could not commit funds to the project,' says McLean.

Despite Braamfontein's image problems, it is still attractive. It is easily accessible from the M1, and the M2 is not far off. The rentals average R45/m² for A-grade property, compared with R35/m² for the CBD, and R25/m² for B-grade space. Vacancy levels are 11,9% (25% for the CBD).

While most of the improvement is aimed at keeping existing businesses and attracting new ones, residential upgrading must be high on the list. It is the residential side that has attracted much of the criticism. Most of the apartment blocks are owned by one landlord, Dunwell Properties, and are rented by students. 'Once we have identified bad buildings in the initial CID area, we will approach the landlords to upgrade them,' says McLean.

The Johannesburg Development Agency is partnering the Braamfontein landlords, thus ensuring public-sector involvement. McLean says the apportionment of costs has not been finalised.

But what about Wits? 'We have 4 000 beds for our 22 000 students and there is demand for an additional 2 000,' says Wits academic external affairs deputy vice-chancellor Thandwa Mthembu. This means Wits has to find a long-term strategy to solve its problem.

Braamfontein would be ideal because of its proximity. But Wits may not end up like Stellenbosch and other cities where the town and the university are intertwined, he says.

'The perception about crime makes it difficult to go the Stellenbosch route,' adds Mthembu. If Braamfontein landlords can show improved security, Wits will be open to negotiations about opening up the institution.

Mthembu says the university's role in the project will largely be through partnerships with other landlords. 'Little development can be done without money,' he says, adding that Wits will get more involved in the latter phases of the development because those will be close to its location.

These phases aim to make Braamfontein part of a cultural arc. Mthembu says Wits is moving its art school closer to where the developments will take place and is converting one of its buildings into a rock art museum and gallery.

'The costs of moving the school and refurbishing the building are carried by the institution and may not be apparent to external people,' says Mthembu.

The revival of Braamfontein could change the face of the surrounding city. 'If we achieve our goals to create a desirable environment, retail and restaurants may return,' says McLean.

 

Last modified on Monday, 19 May 2014 10:47

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