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Overview - inner city progress 2
15 December 2008

There is an enormous amount of activity on the go at present in the Johannesburg inner city, and interesting proposals for next year.

Neil FraserMOVING from my general comments last week to what's happened in the inner city in the year now rapidly drawing to a close and, hopefully, some of what's going to happen in the year ahead. Starting in the south of the inner city, going west, north, east and then filling in the middle, hold tight!




The southern strip of the inner city parallel to the M2 motorway will undergo a major change over the next 10 years with some massive projects being planned and others that should be!

Currently, in Marshalltown, behind the magistrates' court, the Main Square development is steaming ahead. Phase one will be the new head office for the Zurich Insurance Company. The structure has topped out and finishings are well under way. Part of the structure appears to be an elliptical shape on plan with overlapping floors, which is particularly interesting and will provide a new iconic building for the city when completed in April 2009.

To the south of the building, on the opposite side of Marshall Street, is the historic St Alban's Mission Church, which was founded in 1898 "to serve the local Coloured Anglican Community, a magnificent church designed by FLH Fleming replaced the old wood and iron building in 1928 ... It remains a potent reminder of the forced removal of the Coloured people from Ferreirasdorp and Marshalltown."

It is quite hidden between Marshall Street and the Westgate taxi rank, which is maintained in extremely poor condition, if maintained at all. West of the taxi rank is the piece of ground believed to be where Colonel Ignatius Ferreira set up camp. Rumour has it that the City council has decided to use this piece of land as a rank for the cross-border buses that have been clogging up lower Braamfontein. If this is true - and I went down to the site and saw that it is being cleared and levelled - then someone is completely crazy or just not thinking!

The chaos that Westgate taxi rank is in will be nothing compared to that created by hundreds and hundreds of people with all their goods trekking to catch buses. Just look at what has been happening in Braamfontein!

This is not a Nimby - not in my backyard - comment but is made because it will have a negative effect on all the relatively recent developments in that area - the Mapungubwe Hotel & Apartments, the Dogon and Ashanti residential complexes and the Main Square development itself. Surely such a facility should be close to Park Station?

Anyway, back to the southern strip. As previously reported, Standard Bank has bought the Ussher site and is planning a massive development of offices and residential. Slightly further west, I-Prop is also planning a major residential development. A great deal of this southern strip is owned by the council for Pikitup, the Johannesburg metropolitan police department offices, a large bus area, et cetera, and it would be prime space for redevelopment into some of the 70 000 residential units the City is envisaging via the Inner City Charter. The land has become too valuable to be used for depots and storage!



There is still a lot of construction activity on the western side of the inner city. In Newtown, the extensions to the Sci Bono Science and Technology Centre are well advanced - the exterior is in its final stages and finishings are in progress. Opposite, the Horror Café (not the most appropriate name when one is trying to regenerate the area!) is being refurbished. Just west of Sci Bono, demolitions of the adjacent building have been completed and the old Blue IQ office block is also slated for demolition. These sites will be put out to proposal call probably in the new year, with a strong possibility of attracting residential developers.

The new building to house Moving into Dance Mophatong looks as though it could well be completed in the next few weeks. Then, on the north side of Newtown, foundation work is in progress on a smallish site in Carr Street just after one passes the factory where recycling is undertaken - it's all hoarded up so I couldn't really tell what it will be. Work is also in progress in replacing pavements on the opposite side of Carr Street and I also noticed one of the railway sidings in the area being turned into more parking.

The Newtown Quarter on the corner of Quinn and Bree streets is going to be a great addition to this precinct. The structural work appears to be complete and the project is waiting on finalising a deal with a major tenant and also for the siding behind it to be upgraded for parking as has happened elsewhere. I understand that the ball is being bounced between various council departments in this regard, which is plain stupid!

This is a significant development and the amount of expense to the council to convert the siding to parking is negligible. It doesn't take much intelligence to work out the leverage that would be achieved, but, no, the matter just drifts along! The refurbishing and renewal work to the Workers' Museum and Library is proceeding and should be completed early in the new year.

In regard to future developments in Newtown, the initial planning on the massive (R1-billion) Carr Street development of retail, commercial and I think, hotel, is proceeding and Museum Africa is looking to an upgrade in 2009.

There are, in addition, at least two projects on the Central Place site, probably a mix of residential, retail and commercial. One of these will be a mirror image of and adjoining One Central Place. Opposite, is the derelict Transport House; I reported some two years ago that a proposal call had been awarded for a hotel, residential and retail accommodation to be built here.

Latest is that the paperwork has been completed and construction should happen next year, but as this is a Johannesburg Property Company project, don't hold your breath! The same applies to the Majestic site opposite the Market Theatre. All in all, taking these and Carr Street into account one will be looking at least at another R2-billion being added to Newtown.

Completed projects this year included the Turbine Square development housing AngloGold Ashanti plus some commercial tenants. This is a wonderful example of the melding of old and new. Then there is the excellent renewal refurbishment by Numsa of the historic buildings between Gerald Sekoto and Jeppe streets.

At the eastern end of Newtown, between Nelson Mandela Bridge and Sauer Street/Queen Elizabeth Street, is a rough open area with hundreds of taxis ranking on it. The council was keen on this area being incorporated into its planned development of a major International Transport and Shopping Centre. This was one of the largest and potentially most exciting developments for the inner city in years.

However when the City approached Transnet, the current owners of the land, it said, "Sorry, the land has been earmarked for PIC." Now the City will be renting the space for three years and doing basic surface finishes to it so that it can provide a better looking solution to the current mess over the 2009/2010 critical period.

I actually think that this is a disgrace. That a parastatal should decide to hand over a strategic piece of land to be developed and not even discuss the matter with the City is pathetic. It should remember that it took a similar approach over waterfront land in Nelson Mandela Bay and lost the subsequent arbitration. The City should be challenging it over the long-term use of this land.

Between Diagonal and Sauer streets, the basements to the new FNB development are at ground level. This project will provide 1 830 parking bays in its four basements plus ground to sixth floors with four further floors which will provide close to 20 000 square metres (GBA) of offices. The project has a completion date of August 2010 and is currently bang on target.

As I've mentioned previously, this area centring on Diagonal Street has seen some exciting changes this past year with FNB also purchasing the AA Building; Absa purchasing 11 Diagonal Street and the completion of the Turbine Square development. Further north, on the corner of Bree and Sauer streets, is a new KFC and, just south of it, a building is under construction but I haven't been able to find out what this is for.

What else can one expect in this area in 2009? At least two public environment upgrades - one to the Diagonal Street area and the other to Chinatown; the latter has been on the books for probably the last four to five years!



I drove through the Braamfontein area to the south of the University of the Witwatersrand and west of Bertha/Jan Smuts Avenue (the area previously known as Heartlands - not sure if it still is?) and was pleasantly surprised to see the amount of upgrading that has taken place. There are numerous refurbishments into residential accommodation and quite a number of other developments are under way or have taken place.

On the other side of Jan Smuts Avenue, in Braamfontein proper, The Bridge development has a further building being constructed fronting on to Smit Street, with the whole development between De Beer and Melle streets making a welcome addition to the area. The rest of Braamfontein has seen numerous buildings refurbished into offices and residential over this past year, too many, in fact, to detail. I see that some of the ex-Dunwell properties are still in appalling condition; hopefully the new year will see this resolved.

The lovely little historic building on the corner of De Korte and Melle streets, previously known as the Shirt Bar, has been redeveloped in a way that has totally destroyed its previous historic value. The planting on the Eland artwork at the entrance to Braamfontein is growing in the summer heat and rain and adding an extra bit of green to the area.

A new overhead bridge in Ameshof Street between the Liberty Life HQ and its parking garage doesn't exactly complement the upgraded streetscape!

The new City council Gateway building on the west of the Metro Centre is, however, a pleasing addition to the cityscape - now all we still need to do is to implode the Metro Centre itself! To the southeast of the Metro Centre is the R100-million Gautrain Station, which is always very active although one can't see the results of all the activity and street disruption as yet.

A great deal of research and work has gone into refurbishing the Fort and it is looking quite splendid. I'm disappointed that there is a charge for access to the new viewing platform on the north mound to the Fort. This is one of the most important sites in the city and we should be bending over backwards to attract everyone possible to be able to see and learn about the Constitution Hill development from this great view spot.

Hopefully, the ongoing disagreement between Blue IQ and the council regarding the nature of the development of the rest of the site will now be put to rest with the Department of Justice developing facilities for training the judiciary plus the Nelson Mandela Museum of Remembrance taking preference over aquariums and gyms!

The old hospital staff building opposite (south of) the Fort is still unused and uncared for and detracts from the Fort and Women's Gaol. To the east of the Constitutional Court, the Governor's House is being refurbished as a community centre following a fire and is looking good. The Hillbrow health precinct public environment upgrading and work to the clinics is complete.

Lots of refurbs are taking place in Hillbrow and it is great to see so many buildings carrying the Trust for Urban Housing Finance (TUHF) signboard reflecting the steady upgrading of this once quite chaotic area. The Quartz Street Market is at last being rebuilt to give the owner of the adjacent block access to his basement.

The urban environment upgrade to a large proportion of Hillbrow's pavements, lighting and street furniture makes a huge difference to the area - but excessive waste and inadequate cleaning and insufficient refuse bins in many areas may result in the new effect being nullified very quickly. The upgrading to a number of its parks also helps to lift the area and I love the tree lights design that has been used in various parts.

Next year should also see the football adornment of the Hillbrow Tower - the money would be better spent on once again opening the tower to the public.

Some of the really meaningful urban renewal work in Hillbrow that has been carefully crafted over a number of years is in various neighbourhoods, like eKhaya, where property owners, building managers and supervisors, tenants and City council departments have combined to focus on the security, cleaning and maintenance of the urban environment.

In undertaking the street upgrading programme completed by the Johannesburg Development Agency earlier this year, it also provided pocket parks in such areas and will be assisting with the upgrading of the lanes that bisect the areas.

Josie Adler, who, together with the Johannesburg Housing Company, has spearheaded the establishment of projects such as eKhaya, emailed me recently regarding the new pocket park:

"I am so happy to see kids on the swings in Pietersen Street who till now occupied themselves playing with dead rats on the pavement, and others playing ball in the area Pietersen/Claim. Both areas are monitored by eKhaya Security so that they did not immediately become ‘occupied' by drug dealers from the hijacked buildings nearby, and drinking parties and taxi mechanics and washing. Residents from the adjacent buildings tell me that kids are there to play ball from 6am before going to school.

"After four years of organizing eKhaya Neighbourhood there is now an expanding area of operation and a cohesive group able to partner the City in urban upgrade and regeneration! I've been gratified to have the opportunity to test that organising philosophy, methodology and praxis, have application in our city. My hope is that more for-profit property owners develop the insight that development is a process, not an intervention."

Last Saturday, there was an eKhaya Kidz Day which I unfortunately couldn't get to but it is an event typical of the "Making Hillbrow Your Home" movement that is chipping away at the problems and perceptions of the area.

Yet we still have articles appearing in the Saturday Star (November 22) by Justine Gerardy reminiscent of 1990s journalism that glorified the worst of Hillbrow.

Why is it that papers like the Saturday Star have to print negative rubbish such as this? I see the story was funded by the Open Society Foundation of South Africa - it should be ashamed of itself for actually paying for this type of journalism when there is such a lot of positive news with which it could be uplifting people and adding to the efforts of so many who get off their butts to make a difference.

The urban environment upgrading to Rockey/Raleigh Street was also completed this year, together with the upgrade to the Yeoville Park; I see the Yeoville Market appears to be humming - disappointing to see more traders on the street opposite than refuse bins.

Moving south and east, Ponte is still being renovated and Saratoga Avenue and Bertrams Road are still a mess with major Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) work on the go. There is some new football art, although one figure looks as though he is carrying a rugby ball, around Coca-Cola Park (don't you hate this age when everything is overly commercialised?) in anticipation of the Confederation and World cups.

Transport Square, with its new artwork and upgrading, is looking great. This eastern part of the inner city has attracted a great deal of investment in the past year and one is able to see the results in the upgrading of buildings and public environment. Was on the roof of the massive End Street building now being converted from offices to residential a couple of months back - what a view!

The refurbishment/restoration of the DF Corlett and adjacent buildings as an art centre is progressing rapidly and the Mediterranean trees in the courtyard look as though they have established themselves well.



Finally, filling in the centre. On the positive side, the Absa project is progressing at speed. One section is now two floors above street level while the southern building has reached street level. Then you can't help but be struck by the number of AFHCO and City Prop boards, all reflecting investment in restored and refurbished buildings.

The OPH developments clustered around and adjacent to Gandhi Square have certainly added considerably to the look and feel of this area. I see that the partially destroyed Irish Barracks building is now at least boarded off which I hear is also thanks to OPH.

I see hoardings and construction activity around some of the provincial government precinct buildings, the Hotel, Rand Water Board and others. I wonder if it has received heritage approval for the work it is doing. Hmmm!

On the negative side but hopefully to become positive, is the disruption caused by the BRT works. There are also too many buildings on the self-imploding basis - Rissik Street Post Office, the Trade Union Hall  the CNA/Shakespeare/New Kelsey complex.

In regard to the Barbican, at least there is a proposal on the table as part of a massive redevelopment by Old Mutual with some exciting public open space suggestions. The project is evidently only being held back by the lack of a major anchor tenant. In that position it should surely be the provincial government or legislature.

Another exciting proposal is the retail improvement district urban environment proposals which should start in 2009.

While there is an enormous amount of activity on the go at present and interesting proposals for next year, I feel that there has been something of a slowdown created probably by global and local economic events.

I trust that everyone will have a very blessed and safe festive period and a good break before the next 18-month dash to 2010.

Till then, ciao, Neil

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Last Updated on 25 January 2013