Braamfontein looks up as rejuvenation project draws to a successful close

BRAAMFONTEIN'S major revamp, aimed at renewing its role as a centre of business, education and entertainment in Johannesburg, is nearing completion.

A massive R200-million development project was unveiled in 2002. The project entailed creating a "Braamfontein Corporate Precinct", an area likely to be more attractive to business and more welcoming to regular patrons and visitors than parts of the area had hitherto been. The landscape, amenities and level of safety have been improved considerably.

Financing for the development came from Sappi, Liberty Life and other property owners in the vicinity. The Johannesburg Development Agency, the city's economic development arm, contributed some R20-million towards the project. A Section 21 company comprising ratepayers was set up to "oversee the maintenance of the project on an ongoing basis", according to Jim McLean, managing director of Liberty Properties.

Braamfontein is well located, straddling Jan Smuts Avenue and Empire Road, which provide quick access north, east and west. In the past, big business has often cited the high numbers of uncontrolled and often illegal street traders as a reason to vacate the inner city. Braamfontein, a restricted area in terms of the street trading by-laws, has been no exception. Tselane Maila, deputy director of central operations of the Metro Police Department, said in 2002: "We will embark on a full-scale operation to remove hawkers who continue breaking the by-laws."

According to Johannesburg's Executive Mayor, Amos Masondo, this investment brings the overall cash injection into the development of Braamfontein, including the construction of the Nelson Mandela Bridge linking Braamfontein to Newtown (completed in 2003), to more than R1-billion.

The first phase of the Braamfontein rejuvenation project began in May 2003 at the Wits University gateway and centred on the area bordering Ameshoff and Jorissen streets and from Jan Smuts Avenue to Simmonds Street. The greening and paving of sidewalks and the upgrading of signage was part of the face-lift.

Braamfontein streets, including Jorisson Street, a major artery, as well as major shops, buildings, parks and pedestrian paths have been steadily revamped, with trees planted for the greening of the area, while pedestrian-oriented lighting was installed to create beautiful sidewalks. The entire project is due to be completed in early 2004.

The Johannesburg Development Agency has spent R25-million on the project over two years. Other partners include the City of Johannesburg and property owners in the area such as Apex Hi, Sappi, JD Group, Gensec, SAB Miller, the University of the Witwatersrand and Liberty Life.

Liberty Life, the largest property owner in Braamfontein, has been co-ordinating corporate activity through the Braamfontein Business Improvement District (BID), a non-profit company to which ratepayers in the area have contributed. The efforts of the BID include urban redesign and greening of open spaces, improved lighting and signage, dedicated cleaning and security, installing a CCTV network and "improving the public space and environment for residents, office workers and other members of the public," said JDA spokesperson Tshepo Nkosi.

"The project will provide Braamfontein with a new identity and sense of place," said Nkosi. "It is also an investment to upgrade, regenerate, consolidate and stimulate investment opportunities in the greater Braamfontein area."

Sappi House at the corner of Simmonds and Ameshoff Streets has been given a facelift and the adjacent Fedgen building has also undergone a major revamp.

The project has seen the construction of an underground parking bay for the Civic Theatre, complete with escalators to the theatre levels. Bernard Jay, chief executive officer of the Civic Theatre, welcomed the initiative, saying it would attract even more people to the theatre. "We will now have a leisure environment which is easily accessible, pleasant and inviting." He added that the renovations would boost the theatre's efforts to position itself as a "live entertainment hub" of the city. The park alongside the theatre has also been upgraded.

Masondo has hailed the investment as a major boost to the city's efforts at rejuvenating the inner city. He commended the companies involved, saying: "Your contribution to the rejuvenation of Braamfontein is indeed a welcome development. It is through partnerships of this nature that our city will become world-class."