Joburg CBD precinct to get R5bn revamp

Johannesburg - A total of R5 billion. This is the amount of money the Gauteng government has set aside to change the face and looks of its government buildings, including heritage sites, in the Joburg CBD.

The government, through its Infrastructure Development Department under its political boss Nandi Mayathula-Khoza, has identified 21 buildings to benefit from this rejuvenation project, which is expected to begin soon.

On Tuesday, Mayathula-Khoza announced that her department wants to make government departments, including the provincial legislature building, major attractions for tourists and local visitors.

The announcement came soon after the provincial government hosted a successful infrastructure investment conference in Sandton on July 16 and 17.

The conference attracted national and international investors, who expressed an interest in investing in the Joburg CBD.

The government’s plans were also boosted by the growing interest from financial and commercial banks to fund the investment projects.

“As the custodian of state property in Gauteng, besides ensuring optimal usage of government office space and property, the Gauteng Department of Infrastructure Development approaches the Kopanong Precinct Project as an ideal means to relaunch the rejuvenation of the Johannesburg CBD on a large scale,” Mayathula-Khoza said.

“Most significantly, this project will also stimulate investment in the CBD in line with the objectives of the Gauteng Infrastructure Investment Conference.”

She said countries such as India, Singapore, China and the Democratic Republic of Congo had shown interest in the project.

While Mayathula-Khoza was mum about these countries’ investment plans, prominent South African businessman and former human settlements minister Tokyo Sexwale said there was interest from the DRC. Diamonds are part of the DRC’s economic wellbeing and it is likely to invest in the local diamond industry, possibly in the polishing sector.

China already has major investments in other parts of Gauteng.

It is clear that this R5bn project is a game-changing initiative that will modernise the face of service delivery in the province.

“It will also revamp the existing state of the inner city, which will enable new business interest and promote retail,” Mayathula-Khoza said.

Earlier, a heritage architect, Herbert Prins, said the project was not new. Kopanong initially involved 10 buildings that were going to link government departments through walkways and underground tunnels.

The project was started, but several buildings bought by the government had been standing empty, partially renovated, then left to disintegrate, creating an eyesore in the city centre, said Prins.

It was first mooted in 2003, but was put on hold in 2010 partly because of objections from heritage bodies.

At the end of last month, the Gauteng Department of Finance issued a tender for the appointment of a project officer at R10.7 million.

The tender documents note that four buildings in the precinct are listed heritage sites: the New Library Hotel, the SA Reserve Bank building, Clegg House and Montrose House. Six buildings are older than 60 years: the New Library Hotel, the Absa Building, the Old Reserve Bank Building, the SA Permanent Bank Building, the South African Reserve Bank and Clegg House.

The report states that heritage permits will have to be obtained before starting with the development of the affected properties.

“Heritage permits were controversially issued in 2005 for the demolition of some of the buildings in the precinct, causing an uproar from the heritage community. In this context, the tender document states that existing permits would need to be scrutinised to determine their continued validity,” said Prins.

The document states that heritage issues have been identified “as critical perspectives for memorialisation in the precinct of its history on the one hand, and its vision as a stepping stone to a new history”.

The new precinct will include a street underpass, skywalks joining buildings and underground parking around a focal point like a square.

Objectives of the project are to:

* Improve service delivery through efficient interrelations.

* Identify a vehicle of changing ownership in the CBD.

* Eliminate work disruptions by security of tenure.

* Boost urban office design and regenerate the CBD.


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