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Friday Jun 29, 2012

Derelict heritage eyesore stifles Joburg property development

The historic 1913 Marshall Street Barracks, a heritage site in the heart of the Joburg CBD have been lying in rack and ruin for the past 20 years.

DA members protest in front of the old, derelict Marshall Street Barracks.

Still, the Department of Public Works is refusing to say what it intends doing with the land and the ruins that are now burned-out shells.

Although the department recently secured the building and has two guards standing duty to prevent squatters entering, the derelict and burned-out walls are testimony to the department's inability to restore heritage buildings.

It is an eyesore in the area, which is being developed and revitalised by private business.

Property developer Gerald Olitzki, who is responsible for the upgrade of many buildings in the area, including the building next door, has offered to purchase the barracks, redevelop and restore them.

The barracks were built in 1913 and were central Joburg's police headquarters before they moved to the Johannesburg Central police station.

TAfter the police vacated the premises, the building became home to the Transvaal Light Horse regiment, and later the Irish regiment.

When the military moved out, the building was left empty and abandoned and squatters and hawkers moved in.

In October 2002 a fire gutted the barracks, burning the old timber trusses, pressed steel and bricks.

Olitzki has purchased, emptied and revamped several historical buildings in the area around Marshall, Fox and Anderson streets that had been taken over by squatters.

He said he has emptied buildings that housed up to 3 000 squatters.

Olitzki has targeted about 30 buildings in the area for upgrades, but also said the barracks remain a problem.

DA spokesman on public works, MP Anchen Dreyer, described the barracks as "a source of shame" for the Minister of Public Works, Thulas Nxesi.

"The barracks sit on a valuable plot in the Joburg CBD," she said, which could be developed into an important resource for the surrounding community.

"The department reneged on its duty allowed a strategic site with huge potential to fall into disrepair and stand vacant for more than a decade," she said.

"By allowing national assets to fall into disrepair, the Department of Public Works prevents government buildings from being used effectively to deliver services to South Africans," she said.

The Department of Public Works did not respond to a request for comment.

The Star

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