OF all his Halala Joburg Awards, his most coveted is the Stan Nkosi Achievement Award, says Gerald Olitzki, the passionate inner city property developer.
Olitzki received the award at the Halala awards ceremony in June. They have been held annually since 2008, under the guidance of the Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA).
About his latest accolade, Olitzki says it “is the most coveted because it’s a lifetime achievement award” and that makes him extremely happy. This latest award brings Olitzki’s total Halala haul to five.
In 2008 he received the Relaxing and Playing Joburg award, as well as recognition for the Believing in Joburg award (not the Stan Nkosi award). In 2009 he received the Working and Buying Joburg award, and the same award again in 2011.
After 30 years in law, he gave it up and is finally doing what makes him happy, and he says he will continue to do regeneration work in the inner city. “This is what I [have] dedicated my life to.”
Falling in the Believing in Joburg category, the Stan Nkosi Achievement Award acknowledges those who have consciously maintained a belief in the heart of the city. In honouring the late JDA chairman, Stan Nkosi, the winner is recognised for a commitment and allegiance to sustaining the city, a dogged determination to overcome challenges, and a long-standing reputation among peers and the community in the inner city built-environment sector.
In handing out the award, the JDA noted that this summed up Olitzki, who was honoured for all achievements so far in the inner city. In the same ceremony, the first phase of his Fox Street Mall development won the Working and Buying Joburg award.
The Halala Joburg Awards acknowledge outstanding private and public sector projects that are committed to the regeneration of the inner city.
Thanduxolo Mendrew, the acting chief executive of the JDA, explains: “We honour people who strive to improve the quality of life in the inner city of Johannesburg. The primary role of the Halala Joburg Awards is to give recognition to those who continue to inject momentum into the City’s regeneration efforts.”
This is key to Fox Street Mall winning the trophy. It is a commercial and retail development that innovatively uses space to bring consumers to the inner city business hub. A stone’s throw away from Gandhi Square, another award-winning OPH project, Fox Street Mall is a pedestrianised zone where people can move freely in a clean, safe and pleasant environment.
The walkway is lined with shops, eateries and a salon, and puts a twist on simple street shopping. It is easily accessible for people coming from Gandhi Square, the main bus hub in Joburg.
A number of restaurants take up ground floor space, their tables spilling out on the walkway.
His company, Olitzki Property Holdings (OPH), has its base on the ninth floor of Ikusasa House on Fox Street. Sitting in his corner office, surrounded by Halala trophies and framed awards for his various projects, Olitzki speaks about his inner city regeneration efforts with passion.
The aim is to try to get people out of the office and on to the streets, he says, which is why he has created fully pedestrianised walkways.
On a walk down Fox Street Mall, Olitzki points to efforts to revive the streets of the inner city. He has taken what were the worst streets in the city and made them better, and thus has turned the area no one wanted to do business in into a visually appealing hotspot.
“OPH breathed new life into Fox Street by creating a destination where people living and working in the area can relax and enjoy the hustle and bustle,” said the JDA. “The redevelopment zone has provided an opportunity for established or start-up businesses to work in a safe, clean and pleasant environment.”
It noted that the Fox Street Mall development represented an extension of the gains at Gandhi Square and it demonstrated great potential as OPH looked to complete further phases of the mall upgrade and began to consider other links southwards.
“This project has contributed towards substantial occupation of offices in the vicinity, and the creation of residential units in the Colosseum building, improving the quality of life in the inner city,” noted the JDA.
Olitzki explains that Gandhi Square was the first leg of his projects, which led to the Main Street and Fox Street projects, which were transformed into first-class business venues.
He saw a unique gap in the market when a lot of major companies were exiting the inner city. In 1994, he started talking to the City of Johannesburg about a lease over Gandhi Square.
Those negotiations lasted seven years; he received the go-ahead in 2001. And then, his company rolled up its sleeves and started working to rejuvenate what was known to be one of the crime hot spots in Joburg, Olitzki says.
Similarly, Main Street has been radically overhauled. In keeping with the wealth of mining houses on the road, it has been given a distinct mining look. Mining pieces dot the eight blocks that have been refurbished. The historic mining headgear has been moved to the street from Langlaagte, where it had been vandalised; mounted coco pans and underground coaches add to the ambience.
The street is a delight to stroll down, especially on weekends when it is quiet, and safety is guaranteed as there is a street guard for every block. This is the same atmosphere he wants for Fox Street, Olitzki says.