Last week I was lucky enough to attend the Johannesburg Inner City Partnership’s (JICP) forum connecting the Mayor and his team to various stakeholders in the private sector. One of the talks that got me excited was ABSA's presentation of its bold plans for its precinct and surrounding area in the east of the city. If this vision can be realised the impact on the city could be huge!
Transforming the ABSA Tower
Arguably the most eye-catching part of the project will be the cladding of the ABSA Tower. Enthusiasts on the ground have known about this for a while and can't wait to see the results. The new facade is part of a much larger plan to convert the building to mixed use. Modern offices, a potent retail offering and a mix of residential units will be introduced to serve the growing community.
ABSA Tower (The Heritage Portal)
Transforming the ABSA Tower (Slide from presentation at the JICP Forum)
A Magnificent Public Square and Great City Streets
Below the ABSA Tower and across the street from the company's other major buildings, an attractive public square is planned. One of the major criticisms that ABSA has had to endure over the years is that its campus is a bubble where workers rarely leave the safety and comfort of the office. The creation of a public square should encourage more people to interact with the city around them. Removing the pedestrian bridges and reducing the number of internal canteens are ideas that have been put forward to channel people towards the square and the surrounding precinct where they will be able to eat and shop. Creating 'great city streets' is also essential to get people moving around and enjoying the precinct's amenities. With this in mind, the project team has prioritised Polly, Fox, Troye and Main streets for major upgrades. Traffic calming measures will be put in place, street furniture and greenery will be added and existing retail elements will be reenergised.
Proposed Public Square (Slide from presentation at the JICP forum)
Another view of the proposed public square (Slide from presentation at the JICP forum)
Pedestrian bridges may be removed (The Heritage Portal)
Improving access to the ABSA Money Museum and Art Collection
ABSA is blessed to have the remarkable Money Museum as well as one of the largest art collections in South Africa. Access to the museum is difficult and a large portion of the art collection is hidden away in storage. A key part of ABSA's vision is to improve access so these cultural assets can play a much larger role in the life of the precinct.
An Extended Priority Management Zone
Over the years, the eastern part of the city has been plagued by crime and grime. ABSA has invested heavily in making its precinct and various access routes safe and secure but many employees still complain about the stresses of working in the city. With this (and other factors) in mind, ABSA has committed to establish a precinct management company that will be responsible for cleaning, securing, maintaining and marketing the ABSA precinct and then expanding these services to a much larger area (see map below). This kind of intervention will benefit the company and its employees but it will also make a massive difference to thousands of people living and working in the surrounding area.
The Extended Priority Management Zone (Slide from presentation at the JICP forum)
A New Inner City Park
Another significant intervention that forms part of the project is the creation of a major city park. Over the decades, Johannesburg has seen much of its public open space sacrificed for development so this is a very exciting proposal. Buildings on an entire city block will be purchased and demolished to make way for the new park. Heritage experts must be consulted to ensure all heritage processes are followed. The park will be located between the ABSA and Carlton Centre Precincts.
It is important to note that there is a park on the other side of the ABSA precinct: Port Plein Park. It is in a shocking state and the project team has asked the Mayor for assistance in cleaning it up. It is located opposite the historic Three Castles Building which is also in a deplorable state. Although not mentioned in the presentation, I believe finding a solution for this building is vital if ABSA is to achieve its vision for the area.
Port Plein Park (The Heritage Portal)
The Three Castles Building is a short stroll from the ABSA Precinct (The Heritage Portal)
Connecting East and West
There are some wonderful pedestrianised sections of the city already. Anyone that has walked along the Main Street Mall or up Fox Street towards the Carlton Centre will know what I am talking about. A hugely exciting part of the project will see the ABSA Precinct connected to the Carlton Centre in the west and Maboneng in the east via new pedestrian links.
Walking towards the Carlton Centre along Fox Street (The Heritage Portal)
The Absa Precinct will be connected to the Carlton Centre Precinct via a pedestrianised link that will run in front of the Carlton Hotel (The Heritage Portal)
The first step in connecting the ABSA Precinct with Maboneng will be the pedestrianisation of Fox Street between Goud and Polly Streets (The Heritage Portal)
Accommodation and Facility Delivery Plans
A key pillar of ABSA's vision is to transform the surrounding area from a predominantly office node into a 'Live Work Play' environment. With this in mind the team has committed to develop accommodation and facility delivery plans. On the accommodation side, ABSA will work with partners like the JDA, Joshco and the Housing Department to facilitate the conversion of suitable buildings. I was very excited to see that the Carlton Hotel was mentioned as a potential redevelopment opportunity. This on its own would be a major story and the ultimate symbol of the revival of the Joburg CBD. The company will also play a role in the creation of facilities needed by the growing community (schools, clinics, creches etc.).
The Carlton Hotel has been identified as part of the accommodation delivery plan (The Heritage Portal)
A World Class Market
A final element of the grand vision worth mentioning is the creation of the 'Kings Market'. The market will be located on the first floor of a nearby parking garage. Not only will it help serve the needs of the local community but it could become an attraction in its own right.
A Final Thought
Those who follow developments in the inner city are used to disappointment. Grand visions are easy to present but delivery is a lot trickier. I know it isn't much to go on but I did get the feeling during the presentation that there was some serious commitment from ABSA and the City on this one. What a boost for Joburg it would be!