Johannesburg's inner city: opportunity knocks

Johannesburg has fought off urban decay and has a bustling city centre

Johannesburg has fought off urban decay and has a bustling city centre

The inner city of Johannesburg may have been called a derelict zone of urban decay a mere seven years ago, but today this has never been further from the truth. Thanks to the dedicated efforts of the City of Johannesburg (CoJ) and the Gauteng Growth and Development Agency (GGDA), it is once again a thriving hub of economic activity that taps into its vibrant history and does more than echo the metropolis of the past.  A large part of the change has been due to the urban development zone (UDZ) tax incentive and the CoJ’s determination to make the best possible use of what it represents. Since the incentive’s duration has been extended from 2012 to 2020, the CoJ has made a commitment to keeping the momentum going in the inner city’s transformation by creating opportunities in numerous districts across Johannesburg.

“The revitalisation of the inner city of Johannesburg is not just about property development; it is also about the value chain which private investors are creating,” says Lebo Ramoreboli, deputy director, integrated regional economic development, City of Johannesburg. “It stimulates further economic opportunities from which the South African economy can thrive. It is about developing residential property, affordable accommodation and spaces that contribute to the economic progression of small businesses, where they can grow and play their own role in transforming the city. All those organisations and entities that are taking part in this process and investing in the city are developing business opportunities for emerging professionals, enhanced tourism attractions and community development.”

One such opportunity comes in the guise of the Sky Rink TV and film studio currently being developed in the Carlton Precinct. In fact, the entire centre is undergoing revitalisation and refurbishment so as to once again ignite the engagement of people and business.

“The Carlton Hotel, for example, is still the highest building in the city with a 50th floor restaurant that attracts many tourists from all over the world to see the view,” says Ramoreboli. “It is such a unique space; our planned developments are designed to support growth, and things look set to change dramatically over the next few years.”

Sky Rink Studios has plans to establish a cutting-edge television and film studio within the Carlton Centre district. This will be further boosted by the creation of a conference venue with the capacity to host up to 500 delegates and a post-production facility to encourage engagement from the film industry, both locally and abroad. The facility will have the latest equipment, highly trained employees and specialised, high-tech services in media and sound production.

“Another part of the revitalisation of Johannesburg is our commitment to creating interest around certain nodes,” adds Ramoreboli. “One of these is Park Station, the biggest transit-orientated development on the continent. It is an impressive convergence of bus, rail and car traffic that caters for South Africa and the region as a whole. Now, thanks to the Gautrain and investment in infrastructure, tourists and investors can land at [OR Tambo] Airport, come directly into the inner city and exit at Park Station.”

It has the potential to become an economic hub that can be developed into a precinct with retail, housing and entertainment facilities. Ramoreboli points out that Park Station scores highly on the mixed use index as it caters for tourists, business and locals through housing units, an amphitheatre, boutique and specialised stores, retail and hotel accommodation.

Already the Johannesburg Development Agency has developed a Central Park as an area for community engagement and urban greening. The City wants this to become a space that shows the world how a truly African hub can succeed.

Another thematic precinct is to be along the inner city railroad corridor in Doornfontein and Ellis Park. The development of these areas is being led by private sector companies and the goal is to transform the area from derelict to exciting, from vandalism to vibrancy. The vision is to create a retail hub and student village atmosphere to drive entrepreneurship, entertainment and tourism.

“Doornfontein is a major railway station so we are using a transit-orientated development concept to catalyse development there,” says Ramoreboli. “Ellis Park is already a well-known space, so we are proposing to develop this into a thriving sports precinct with opportunities for development in accommodation, retail and even a sports museum. All these will drive visitors to the area and enhance its economic capability.”

In Fordsburg, already an area that has shown significant growth, CoJ is looking to capitalise on its success by promoting further investment. Considered one of the best places to go for anything in interior design, the Fordsburg precinct is ready to move to the next level with developments in accommodation and office space. Newtown has also undergone impressive transformation, but there are still opportunities for the wise investor.

“Our plan is to expand the footprint of Newtown as cultural district as it has the advantage of being close to the university,” says Ramoreboli. “We believe there is an opportunity to build an area which caters for students with offices and potential collaboration with various university departments in creating specialised pockets for students, postgraduates and departments.”

For the CoJ, these thematic precincts only form a part of the potential of the city. There are a number of plans of expansion of the UDZ coverage in progress, which includes the Corridors of Freedom and other declining CBDs such as Randburg, Midrand, Lenasia and Roodepoort.  

The future vision of Johannesburg is one that sees a socially transformed city with even more economic power than today, and which is sustainable and resilient. It plans to extract economic return from the massive infrastructure investments that have contributed to the development of the transit-related Corridors of Freedom. Viable economic catchments will be identified and strategies created which have strong foundations and sustainable futures.

The CoJ is to capitalise on the benefits of the UDZ tax incentive in leveraging its extended coverage.  New areas will be commercialised to create economic opportunity, capture economic value and stimulate local business initiatives.  Proposed development in the Hillbrow-Berea-Parktown-Bellvue-Yeoville district will create a new, publicly accessible open space and stimulate new opportunity for office and hotel development, while overcoming the incumbent challenges of Hillbrow once and for all.

Ramorobeli concludes: “The Wynberg-Alex-Malboro corridor is the closest residential area to the Gautrain station in Alex, and we want to catalyse the entirety of this area into high density residential areas and streets which foster small business, tourism and a sense of place. The Orange Grove-Bramley-Waverley-Highlands North-Kew corridor is predominated by small business and automotive trade and repair, so a proposed commercialisation strategy is being prepared to find the best ways to drive the area and bring out its economic endowments.”

The inner city of Johannesburg and the Corridors of Freedom are in good hands. Opportunity knocks as districts evolve and the area is once again flooded with the foot flow of consumers, businesses and tourists. It is a great time to be a part of the city and to watch as the CoJ fulfils its mandate to transform the streets and precincts into places that echo the history of the country and capture its untapped potential.