Randburg CBD’s slow but steady journey back to respectability.

By the early 2000’s Randburg CBD was being treated like Sandton’s ugly sister. Low occupancies, derelict buildings, squatters and an infrastructure desperately in need of renewal. Between 2000 and 2003, Randburg CBD posted the fastest growing vacancy rates compared to areas like Jo’burg CBD, Sandton and Rosebank.

After government restructuring in 2000 incorporated Randburg into greater Johannesburg, the Northern Metropolitan Local Council moved out of the civic centre and squatters invaded the building. The well-located CBD, once a model, went into steep decline.

A path of restoration emerged when Randburg CBD was declared a city improvement district in 2004. The intention was to deal with the district’s manifold problems and win back business confidence. Kagiso Urban Management was appointed to manage the area.

Following this was the official launch of the Randburg Management District (RBMD) in April 2005, a joint effort by the City and the local business community to give Randburg CBD a make-over. The RBMD borders Selkirk Road in the south, Dover Street in the north, Kent Avenue in the west and Hendrik Verwoerd Drive in the east.

Patrolling by public safety ambassadors from 7am to 7pm was introduced. Subcontractors were brought in to remove illegal posters as well as litter, to clean tree wells and dispose of refuse bags.

In 2005, two phases of a four phase plan were underway commissioned by the Johannesburg Development Agency; traffic flow into Pretoria Avenue was improved by opening up the intersection of Philips and Burke streets. New street lighting was installed, roads were resurfaced and pavements greened.

The intersections of Hill Street and Pretoria Avenue and of Hendrik Verwoerd Drive and Pretoria Avenue were upgraded. The informal traders’ market near the taxi rank was also being overhauled. Roads were widened, paving restored and street lights installed or restored. The Market was extended into the parking area of the civic centre where additional trading stalls were set up.

By 2006 the SA Property Owners’ Association confirmed that the Randburg CBD was showing a reversal of fortunes.  A and B grade office vacancies nearly halved, from 13% to 7%, in the two years to end-December 2006. Well into 2006 there were plans for a six-storey development on Hilltop Street expected to help restore Randburg CBD and boost its reputation. Randburg Chamber of Commerce and Industry newsletter announced plans to introduce the conversion of two commercial buildings into residential accommodation. Flats in the old Metro building were sold out in one weekend and Dover Towers on the corner of Dover and Hendrik Verwoerd began selling flats for between R380 000 and R680 000. It became clear to movers and shakers that those who could not afford to live in Sandton but still wanted to be close to its business hub were investing in residential property in Randburg.

But the renewal of Randburg, though steady, has been slow. By 2007, listed property fund Vukile reported a strong uptake of space in its landmark Randburg Square shopping centre and office tower (the old high-rise Sanlam Centre). Vukile reported that at the beginning of the year more than 70% of Randburg Square’s office space stood empty. By end-2007, vacancies had dropped to below 10%.

Still in 2007 African Capital Property Portfolio, a fund chaired by Zwelakhe Sisulu bought four commercial properties for close to R80m in the Randburg area: three office blocks and an industrial property. The four Randburg buildings are African Capital’s first acquisitions. JSE-listed CBS Property Portfolio has a 45% equity interest in African Capital.

A trend seemed to emerge where investors began buying and upgrading older office blocks in the Randburg area, possibly due to the growing scarcity of space in Sandton.

2010 saw projects emerge like the conversion of the old Nedbank building, which had become known as little Hillbrow due to its notorious reputation for crime and prostitution. Restoration began with the view to providing stable homes for underprivileged people. It was bought by Rembrandt Papers with the intention of converting the structure to a residential block of flats. Ward Councillor at the time Alison van der Molen said “This building can now be an asset to Randburg instead of an eyesore.”

But it seems there’s a long way to go. Currently underway Johannesburg City Council is engaged in a PPP (Public, Private, Partnership.) with the JDA to rejuvenate a whole triangle of land, between Selkirk, Bram Fischer and Jan Smuts Avenues. Dividing the triangle into a northern portion of land of 6.4Ha and a southern portion of 2.27Ha.

The Southern Portion will be developed for social housing (735units) by Johannesburg Social Housing Company (Joshco) and the Northern portion will be made up of a mixed-use property development that will be able to house municipal and social services, including the taxi rank, the Bus Rapid Transit facility, the library, the licensing department and more affordable housing.

Phase one is well underway with the demolition of the old, and recreating the new, roads and infrastructure. Phase two should commence in June. Further plans include a phased public environment upgrade by 2013, with plans to upgrade the Hill Street Mall, followed by making some of the streets in the office environment more pedestrian friendly, so that Randburg can be more of a transit hub.

It hasn’t been easy and it hasn’t been quick. Randburg still looks very much like the neglected city compared to Sandton, its glamorous sister on the next hill. But it’s clear that there is definitely steady movement from Council and plenty of intention from investors. You can do it Randburg, you can do it.

About Matthew Campaigne Scott

I'm a freelance writer and researcher. I have written for periodicals and websites, composed speeches and sermons and prepared copy for web advertisements and research papers. I can tailor my work according to your needs. I love a challenge and enjoy building work relationships.

Posted on February 10, 2012, in Johannesburg, Property and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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