Developers are rethinking waterfront projects

Posted On Wednesday, 11 June 2003 02:00 Published by
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Lack of focus and integration has rendered many waterside designs unsuccessful

RANDBURG Waterfront's planned repositioning has raised questions about the long-term sustainability of artificial waterfronts in city centres.

The lack of focus and integration has created problems at artificial waterfronts in the past.

Developments with clearly defined identities either retail or entertainment seem to work best.

Waterside design has, with hindsight, drawn criticism, and still water is perceived as dirty.

Randburg Waterfront spokesman Cheryl Adamson says: "People are looking for something much more real, not something jazzed up or overthemed. Man-made lakes haven't been a raving success in Johannesburg. Although people love being near water, they are not that keen on artificial large expanses of still water."

Independent property consultant Patrick Flanagan says he believes water does not add value to a retail environment. "It's very difficult to create an artificial water-cum-leisure environment."

He says natural waterfronts like the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town work because of the sea. Although a harbour is manufactured, it is a functional development and "leisure has a good chance of working".

"People go there to soak in the environment. They watch seals and seagulls. As a byproduct of that they'll attend restaurants and pubs and things of that nature," says Flanagan.

"It's extremely difficult to create an artificial water-based environment. Randburg Waterfront's best chance of success is for it to be definitively a shopping centre and identify itself as such. Either it's a leisure environment or a shopping environment. If you're predominantly a retail centre, any entertainment facilities become ancillary to it and support it. It won't be the main reason for people to go there. If you decide entertainment is the primary driver, then any retail you develop is ancillary to that."

Flanagan says it is very difficult to be dominant in both retail and entertainment. "I haven't yet seen anything in this country which has been able to combine the two in an artificial waterfront environment."

Lakeside Mall Benoni, which he developed on a natural lake system, experienced problems with its entertainment component. Restaurants, which faced the lake, failed.

"Although it was very pretty, the cold weather and the fact that the Lakeside Mall is predominantly a shopping centre saw those elements fail. That space will be recycled for retail purposes," he says.

"The Lakeside Mall site merely fronts on to an existing lake. It's a shopping centre with ancillary entertainment."

Adamson says the fact that the Randburg development's large waterfront was problematic became obvious about three years ago.

The waterfront, which has had a hefty entertainment component, is to be relaunched in October as The Brightwater Commons, with emphasis shifting to retail.

The lake is being filled in.

Landscaping will leave it with a small flowing brook a quarter of the original lake's size.

Randburg Waterfront and Bruma Boardwalk were initially jointly owned by Oz Construction and listed property fund Grayprop. Grayprop bought out Oz Construction in 2001 and sold Bruma Boardwalk to a Chinese consortium, opting to concentrate on repositioning Randburg Waterfront.

"At the time of the launch seven years ago, there was an overexposure to the restaurant and entertainment component, due to the limited retail rights granted at the time," Adamson says.

The two anchor tenants Pick 'n Pay and the flea market, were at opposite ends of the centre, with limited access across the lake.

"You had a very specific target market supporting Pick 'n Pay. They came, shopped and left. The same thing happened at the flea market. The demographics of the Pick 'n Pay shopper and the flea market shopper were not always the same."

Adamson says consumers found the water "alienating" because there was no landscaping to soften the water's edge, and it was "often perceived as dirty". She says this perception will be averted by diverting a natural watercourse to flow through the grounds, where a "village green" will be created on which people can picnic, listen to music, or play games.

"All the clubs are history. The most we'll have is a family pub such as McGintys," she says.

There will be a maximum of 20 restaurants and coffee shops, a third of the number there previously.

The R80m refurbishment will be completed in two phases, the first in October when most of the new central features and several facades will be completed.

The flea market will be moved to a central site by April.

Bruma Boardwalk, bought by Chinese consortium Blaizepoint Trading in December and renamed Asia City, has been repositioned as a wholesale and retail centre for products from China and southeast Asia.

Centre manager Spencer Ho says the water has been a hindrance.

"The water of the lake is very dirty the maintenance of the lake costs a lot of money every month."

Ho says there have been suggestions that the lake be filled in and a mini golf course be created on the site.

However, no decisions have been made.

Jun 11 2003 07:46:34:000AM Nick Wilson Business Day 1st Edition

Publisher: Business Day
Source: Nick Wilson

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