Bye-bye, Vil­lage Walk

Finweek English Edition - - INSIDE - Bruce Whit­field brucew@fin­

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

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