SOMETHINGels Hol­i­day Inn is the busi­ness

Finweek English Edition - - Cover -

FOR THE FIRST TIME Sand­ton has the look and feel of a proper fi­nan­cial district in a world city. There were just too many open spa­ces and trees be­fore: Sand­ton circa 2000 looked like a big sub­ur­ban of­fice park that hap­pened to have a stock ex­change. There sim­ply weren’t enough tall build­ings. Any busi­ness cap­i­tal worth its salt is in shad­ows most of the time and is 90% con­crete and glass. Face­brick is a def­i­nite no-no and Sand­ton cen­tral still has some left. Ugh. A fi­nan­cial mile with a mi­cro­cli­mate – even as tem­pes­tu­ous as it cur­rently is in The City (Lon­don) and Wall Street (New York) – is the ul­ti­mate sign of hav­ing ar­rived, and Sand­ton is hot and both­ered right now.

When Absa canned the idea of con­struct­ing the high­est tower on the high­est hill in Sand­ton – which would have dwarfed Rand Mer­chant Bank’s Eight­ies neo-clas­si­cal, neon-edged Lego block that led the Jo’burg down­town ex­o­dus and is still the high­est point in the district – it seemed as if Sand­ton Cen­tral would al­ways be a node. Just a busi­ness node.

And 24Cen­tral, the col­lec­tion of restau­rants and a night­club now oc­cu­py­ing the orig­i­nal site of Absa’s aban­doned tower project, is a nec­es­sary part of any place of busi­ness (al­though clinch­ing a mega-merger in a News Café seems slightly ba­nal). But a dom­i­nat­ing block (I was imag­in­ing some­thing akin to one of the New York WTC con­struc­tions, no less) would have re­ally given Sand­ton pres­ence.

So it’s fallen on the new ho­tels to give Sand­ton Cen­tral a sense of be­ing a place of high fi­nance. Who’d have thunk a Hol­i­day Inn of all things would be the erec­tion that fi­nally puts Sand­ton Cen­tral on par with a Gang­nam or a Sród­mi­escie? Opened last month, the new Hol­i­day Inn isn’t the same as those fre­quented by your par­ents. Its pala­tial lobby and mas­sive fire­place that wel­come you al­ready makes that clear. The cher­ry­wood-fin­ished (fake or not) busi­nes­sori­en­tated rooms (no bath) drive it home.

Back in the days when South African fam­i­lies still had ho­tel hol­i­days – not chalets, self-ca­ter­ing cot­tages or camp­site De­cem­bers – Hol­i­day Inns were the place to be. You could pack a fam­ily of six in a dou­ble room when dou­ble still meant what it said and a game of 20c As­ter­oids in the lobby was the height of the en­ter­tain­ment of­fered.

The Sand­ton Hol­i­day Inn is a dif­fer­ent story al­to­gether. A rooftop swim­ming pool and the best bird’s eye view of Sand­ton open to the pub­lic (too bad the 33rd floor of the Michelan­gelo Tow­ers is a pri­vate spot and Sand­ton City be­comes more dun­geon­like with ev­ery visit) would have been enough, but its top floor Sky Bar (why has it taken so long for Sand­ton to get some­thing de rigeur in any mod­ern city?) seals the deal. From the bar, vis­i­tors can be en­ter­tained by a light­ning show – as we were on the night – surely un­par­al­leled in the world.

The de­vel­op­ers are still con­sid­er­ing their op­tions on what to do with the rest of the top floor. The space has bal­conies all around, so the smell of on­com­ing Highveld storms can mix with that of the cigars and co­gnac on of­fer, and the decor is Vic­to­rian Li­brary meets Afro Min­i­mal­ist (yet it works). Whether it’s turned into an af­ter-work drink­ing spot or fine din­ing es­tab­lish­ment would hardly make a dif­fer­ence. Peo­ple would flock there.

Sense of high fi­nance.

FRIK ELS frike@fin­

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