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Giving downtown an upbeat outlook

Posted On Wednesday, 02 June 2004 02:00 Published by eProp Commercial Property News
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Joburg redevelopment bears fruit, writes Don Robertson

Taffy AdlerThere are many heroes to thank for the rejuvenation of the Johannesburg central business district, but property developer Gerald Zolitzki's activities may well be the most visible.

Zolitzki has been instrumental in converting the derelict Van der Bijl Square between Eloff and Rissik streets into Gandhi Square, which now boastscafés and restaurants and has a 24-hour security service.

Zolitzki, a former attorney, bought his first property in the CBD in1989 and approached the Johannesburg council in 1994 with his plans forVan der Bijl Square. He has a 45-year lease on the precinct and owns morethan half the properties that surround the square.

"I buy slum properties and convert them into A-grade office space,"he says.

He is also involved in a consortium that encourages owners of buildingson Main and Fox streets to convert them into pedestrian malls. Already,coffee shops and restaurants are being built.

The consortium has delineated an area of the city which will be declared"safe and secure" and will be policed and cleaned. About 60 entrances tothe area will be marked by arches similar to those in cities in the UKand US.

"The co-operation between the private and public sectors has been amazing,"says Zolitzki.

A key aspect of the recovery of the CBD is the increasing number ofresidents who have moved into the area, drawn by the efforts of the non-profit Johannesburg Housing Company (JHC).

JHC chief executive Taffy Adler, whose work is supported by local andinternational groups, stresses the importance of increasing the residentialcomponent of the CBD to create an almost 24-hour presence.

In addition, the refurbished buildings are intended to encourage ownersof nearby buildings to upgrade and foster the establishment of cafés,leisure activities and light industry.

JHC has provided 1 842 housing units (of which less than 5% are vacant)in Troyeville and Jeppestown in the east, in Joubert Park and Hillbrow,and in Newtown and Fordsburg in the west.

At present, income from these units more than covers operating costs.The surplus is used to pay back debt raised on the commercial market.

Adler says the JHC now has "no problems" raising institutional funding.About 48% of the contractors doing management and maintenance are previously disadvantaged individuals (PDIs), while 82% of management costs are paidto PDI contractors.

JHC's partnerships and alliances include the National Department of Housing, the City of Johannesburg, the Central Johannesburg Partnership,the National Housing Finance Corporation, the Gauteng Department of Housing and Land Affairs, Anglo American and Anglo Gold, Absa and ApexHi Properties.

International bodies such as the European Union, the Flemish Regional government, JP Morgan and the US Agency for International Development are among the foreign organisations that put up the original donor fundingof about R70-million.

JHC operates on three fronts:

  • Buying vacant land in the CBD and developing townhouse complexes;
  • Buying existing blocks of flats and refurbishing units; and
  • Buying hotels or hostels and converting them into housing.

Under construction is the R100-million Brickfields high- and low-rise complexon a 2.7ha vacant site in Newtown. The project, which will provide accommodationfor between 2 500 and 3 000 people, will be completed in about 12 months.

Depending on the size of the units, rentals will range from about R500a month for a single room, to R800 a month for a one-bedroom flat and R1500 a month for a townhouse unit. Each unit has 24-hour security and iscleaned daily.

JHC owns 17 buildings and provides work for about 4 000 people, in additionto those who will work on the Brickfields project.

Allied to the housing initiatives, the Central Johannesburg Partnership(CJP) has set up municipal property "city improvement districts". In eachdistrict, property owners agree to contribute financially towards the provisionof services, supplementary to those provided by the council, to improvethe area.

The CJP co-operates closely with the police force and other securitycompanies, it says.

It is involved in converting parts of Fox and Main streets into pedestrianthoroughfares and is upgrading parts of Braamfontein by repairing pavementsand planting trees. Street cleaning and security are a part of the CJP's private urban management programme.

CJP CEO Neil Fraser says the rejuvenation projects have been "absolutely"successful and that private funding has risen to more than R30-million.

According to Yael Horowitz, head of the Johannesburg Development Agency,the inner city is a major economic asset and provides R116-billion a yearto the gross geographic product or 11% of the South African GDP.

Other recent developments include the inauguration of the Nelson Mandela bridge, a R30-million upgrade of Braamfontein, the completion of the Constitution Hill complex, and vendor and taxi rank projects in Jeppe Street.

A fashion district that spans a 20-block area from Pritchard Streetto End Street is also drawing keen interest.


Last modified on Wednesday, 14 May 2014 16:41

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