Saturday, January 16, 2016 - 14:48

[Originally published in September 2015] Last week Jacques Stoltz reported that the massive Gauteng Provincial Government Precinct (Kopanong Precinct) may finally be moving ahead. The project involves the 'rehabilitation, development and management' of twenty-one buildings in the historic heart of Johannesburg at a projected cost of R5 billion. This is certainly exciting news but what is more exciting for us is that this is just one (by far the biggest of course) of many projects transforming the CBD. A quick survey of projects could easily lead an observer to conclude that a new chapter in the history of the Inner City is upon us!


Scale Model of part of the Kopanong Precinct (Jacques Stoltz)


In 2014 the Atterbury Group completed the R1.2 billion award winning Newtown Junction. The project is truly massive and brings much needed amenities to residents and visitors of the Inner City. For many years we heard Newtown residents complain that they had to travel outside the city (or a long way within it) to do their shopping. Newtown Junction fills a massive need in this regard and also adds solid entertainment facilities. The huge number of parking bays will certainly help draw more visitors to the precinct as well. Nedbank will be the anchor tenant for the office component of the development and a new hotel will further enhance the area.


Newtown Junction shortly before opening (The Heritage Portal)


Right next door to Newtown Junction, the Market Theatre Foundation has been refurbishing its existing facilities and developing the block on the eastern side of Mary Fitzgerald Square. New facilities include rehearsal rooms, a theatre, library, gallery space, classrooms and offices. On the other side of the highway, Newtown has also seen the creation of Mill Junction, an innovative adaptive reuse project.

As you head west from Newtown towards the Anglo American Precinct there is more good news. Anglo is refurbishing the landmark 44 Main Street and we have heard rumours that De Beers personnel will be moving from Crown Mines to the heart of the city. This should lead to an increase in trade for the businesses located on the vibrant Main Street Mall.


View towards 44 Main Street and the Anglo American Precinct (The Heritage Portal)


Many people will be aware of the redevelopment of empty warehouses to the south west of the Inner City to create the unique Sheds@1Fox. What this development lacks in size (compared to some of the other projects mentioned here) it makes up for in powerful public relations value. The Sheds is one of those good news stories that is helping to attract regular visitors to the Inner City and change many negative stereotypes about downtown.

At the heart of the old Financial District Redcon Property Management has added a large number of residential units to the Inner City mix by redeveloping Cape Towers. It appears as though the beautiful Cape House, next door to Cape Towers, will be converted into offices (not a Redcon project). The company has also been active in the Old Retail District converting the landmark Dorchester Mansions into apartments.


Dorchester Mansions (The Heritage Portal)


Most Joburgers are familiar with the majestic Ansteys Building and will be happy to hear that it is being restored. The building definitely adds some glamour to the area.


Ansteys (Brian McKechnie)


Atkinson House (Chrysler House), once home to an iconic motor showroom and later the offices of Radio 702, was redeveloped by Afhco in 2013. The building is located at the southern end of Eloff Street and as far as we are aware Afhco will be refurbishing a number of other buildings in this area in the near future.


Chrysler / Atkinson House from above (The Heritage Portal)


Another project driven by Afhco is the refurbishment of the Stuttafords Building located on the corner of Rissik and Pritchard Streets in the heart of the Old Retail District. The company is creating approximately 120 upmarket residential units and expects work to be completed by the end of the first quarter 2016. A five minute walk from Stuttafords towards the High Court you will find Innes Chambers. The Department of Public Works has invested R250 million to create magnificent office space for the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA). This is already having a positive effect on the High Court Precinct. A short distance away R140 million has been invested to convert the Bosman Building (corner Bree and Von Brandis) into 225 apartments.


Stuttafords is being restored to its former glory


Innes Chambers 2015 (Brian McKechnie)


Bosman Building (The Heritage Portal)


The Department of Pubic Works is involved in another huge development: the adaptive reuse of the Marshall Street Barracks at 85 Anderson Street. Flexible office space is being created for a number of government departments. This development will bring hundreds of employees into the Inner City and increase the need for residential and retail space. It will also remove an eyesore that has blighted the area for the last decade (heritage buildings are being preserved). It appears as though DPW will be looking to redevelop more of its old buildings in the CBD which is certainly exciting news.


Marshall Street Barracks (Heritage Portal)


Another area receiving significant attention is the Park Station Precinct. New parks have been created near the Nelson Mandela Bridge and an iconic pavillion is planned. It also looks like the Rotunda will get a new lease on life which is incredibly exciting.


Architects are currently working on plans to turn the Rotunda into an Entrepreneurial Centre (The Heritage Portal)


There has been a lot of controversy about the land surrounding Old Park Station over the last month. Affordable housing is currently planned but there is still a small possibility that Transnet will create a world class Rail Museum bringing a must visit tourist attraction to the cultural precinct of Johannesburg. Whatever scenario unfolds it is good to see investment in this area.

To the east of the city Barclays / ABSA continues to make an impact. The company has invested billions in new buildings over the past five years and has some spectacular plans in the pipeline. The most exciting project is the recladding of the ABSA tower. Glass, apparently similar to that used on the Shard in London, will transform the building into a twenty-first century icon!

A compelling case for a new boom for the Joburg CBD has been presented and we haven't even mentioned the developments in Braamfontein, Doornfontein and Maboneng which have been well covered in the media. It is worth noting that the City of Johannesburg is investing a massive R2.5 billion to redevelop the Metro Centre in the coming years.


Metro Centre (The Heritage Portal)


Projects that MUST happen

All this is certainly good news but there are still projects that enthusiasts and commentators agree must happen to maintain and increase momentum. The Johannesburg Property Company (JPC) is working incredibly hard to find a sustainable use for the Rissik Street Post Office. This landmark historic building has been the focus of Johannesburg's longest running heritage battle. The building has been ravaged by fire, neglect and vandalism but thankfully continues to survive against the odds. The day the building is restored the citizens of Joburg will rejoice and the news will reverberate around the country sending a powerful message about the future of the Inner City.

Similarly landmark hotels like the the Carlton Centre and the Johannesburg Sun must be reused (not necessarily as hotels of course). The Carlton Hotel was once the premier hotel in South Africa. The who's who of world politics, business and entertainment were hosted by the iconic institution. When the Inner City slipped and then raced into decline in the late 1990s the hotel was mothballed and remains in this state today. There have been many rumours over the years about the adaptive reuse of the Carlton. Alas none have come to fruition... yet!


Carlton Hotel (The Heritage Portal)


Enthusiasts and Commentators agree that the Joburg Sun must be reused (The Heritage Portal)


The block containing Shakespeare House, the CNA Building and New Kempsey Building must be redeveloped (sensitively of course). Despite widespread criticism Urban Ocean continues to sit on these properties most probably for financial reasons. The poor state of the buildings sends an awful message to visitors and investors. Hopefully the work of Afhco, the Provincial Government, OPH and others in the area will create an environment which finally pushes Urban Ocean into action.

The CBD still faces a spectrum of challenges (many thrown up by this new development spurt) but it is hard not to feel optimistic with so many great projects transforming the city around us!


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