Bye-bye, Village Walk
The Village Walk Shopping Centre in Sandton is poised for a long-overdue demolition. Work to raze the property is expected to commence by June this year and comes about two years after long-standing tenants at the site were evicted in anticipation of its redevelopment. However a long list of complications has delayed work, leaving several former tenants furious that they were kicked out sooner than might have been absolutely necessary.
The Village Walk has needed significant work for several years, but issues such as poor vehicle access off busy Rivonia Road and the significant speed bumps in Maude Street past the front of the JSE meant that it struggled to be a big drawcard for tenants and shoppers alike. The property gradually became marginalised and dated and because it was primarily retail, found itself overtaken by ‘ fresher’ retail space. Liberty-owned Sandton City, for example, has become a dominant feature in the area and there have also been new lifestyle developments a stone’s throw down Rivonia Road. Over time it became little more than a lunch-time hangout for office workers. Retail tenants had been complaining of declining footfalls and despite the presence of a long-established Pick n Pay in the centre, there were no other significant national chains in place.
Now, however, the property’s owners say they have a plan that will see the site better utilised. Even though it has no immediate prospective tenants, owners Eris Property Group say demolition must begin soon. It has lofty monthly running costs in excess of R1.1m and worsening security issues mean it will be knocked down by spring. Rather than using explosives on the current structure, the building is likely to be dismantled so that reusable materials can be salvaged and donated to social projects. Imploding buildings, while visually spectacular, is not ideal as the owners want to preserve the existing underground parking.
Once it has an anchor tenant, development of the site is expected to take around 18 months. Eris, which manages a R6.4bn property portfolio, was previously controlled by RMB. MMI now owns 52% of the f irm. Village Walk was part of the property assets held by Metropolitan at the time of its merger with Momentum.
It’s probably posed the biggest headache in the portfolio. Another key constraint to the redevelopment of the property has been the existence of a 35-year lease held by the Balalaika Hotel, which is operated by Protea. The tenants, says CEO of the Eris Property Group Warren Schultze, are not prepared to budge: “It’s not viable for us to buy them out of the lease, so we will redevelop alongside the hotel. In the meantime we really need to sterilise the running costs.”
The idea is to t urn t he site i nto a 23 000sq m corporate head office for one, or even two, clients. The new property will have some retail elements while access issues will be addressed by connecting the development to nearby Stella Road, which runs down the eastern side of the property. Not only will that provide better vehicle access than Village Walk had but it will also assist in providing Gautrain commuters with convenient pedestrian access. That in turn will create scope for restaurants and bars along that particular road.
While Eris has a broad outlook about the future of the property, the site’s final design needs a catalyst in the form of a long-term tenant who will dictate final design requirements so that the property can be tailormade from the ground up.
Artist’s impresson of what the new building on
the former Village Walk site might look like