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Monday Oct 27, 2014

Durban plans 'beach champion'

Durban plans to appoint a beachfront champion with overall power over the city's main attractions, the Golden Mile and Kings Park sport node. The super boss will also handle complaints from tourists, residents and the area's many hotels.

A bird's eye view of the beachfront

The aim is to turn the area into a five-star attraction, that attracts new investment and more tourists. The planned appointment has been hailed by the business community and the hospitality industry.

The eThekwini city manager, S'bu Sithole, says the only way the city can polish up its prized asset, the beachfront - which recently underwent a R100-million revamp - is to appoint a "beachfront champion". Hotel chains have also spent billions on upgrading their facilities after the 2010 World Cup.

Recently, several residents near Blue Lagoon complained to the city, asking it to clamp down on taxis that were playing loud music into the early hours of the morning. Metro police stepped up roadblocks in the area.

Residents and tourists have also complained about broken bottles, litter and unkempt green spaces at the beachfront.

However, this image is expected to soon change as Sithole said the appointment would mean there would be a dedicated person in charge of every aspect of the beachfront - from ensuring safety and security, to cleanliness, events and promotions. The task would be to ensure that Durban's beachfront was seen as the best.

"We recognise that the management of the beachfront cannot be done by one department, but we need all departments involved, but importantly we need one person who will be in charge," said Sithole.

"All units, like parks and recreation, Durban Solid Waste, Safer Cities, even engineering, who work at the beachfront, will come under this person," said Sithole. This strategic position was likely to be filled ahead of the festive season.

"We expect a report to come to council on Wednesday with names of senior people from within the municipality who we think are capable," said Sithole. "We want Durban's beachfront to be a five-star offering, even up to seven stars, this is our asset and we need to maintain it, and attract people day and night," said Sithole.

He said the beachfront champion would have a budget and a dedicated phone number, apart from the city's fault reporting lines, to make suggestions and report incidents.

Council Speaker Logie Naidoo, in discussions with editors on Thursday, said the city was trying to get international charter flights to come to King Shaka International Airport and was consulting various stakeholders, including the central government, the province, SAA and the Airports Company of South Africa.

The city hopes that hosting the World Routes 2015 aviation conference next year will attract big players to look at Durban as an international tourism destination.

The Durban Chamber of Commerce chief executive, Andrew Layman, welcomed the champion initiative, saying the Chamber had advocated such an appointment for some time.

Because it was the focal point for visitors, Layman said the beachfront required special attention.

"Wherever precinct management has been implemented, it has resulted in an improved environment from the point of view of crime and grime. It also provides the opportunity for positive developments that add value to the properties in the area," he said.

Charles Preece, of the Federated Hospitality Association of Southern Africa (Fedhasa), said the association supported the initiative "100 percent".

"If implemented effectively, it could go a long way in changing the face of the beachfront," he said.

In the past four years, the eThekwini municipality has invested millions of rand in revamping the beachfront from uShaka in the south to Blue Lagoon in the north, which included paving, new premises for restaurants, new parking areas and toilet facilities. The revamp cost R100m.

However, several of the premises built along the promenade are still vacant, despite the city promising that tenants would soon move in. Hotels along the Golden Mile also undertook to invest heavily in their facilities to cater to the growing tourism market.

Recent figures show that more than R1bn has been spent since 2003 on the Point area, and the Durban Point Development company has plans to spend billions more, which includes plans for a cruise ship terminal.

Tropicana Hotel recently underwent a R2.5m upgrade of the exterior of the building, the consolidation of the Elangeni and North Beach hotels into the Elangeni and Maharani cost R220m, R100m was spent on the refurbishment of the Garden Court Marine Parade, and Suncoast is to undergo a R1.8bn major upgrade, which will include a 2 000-seat multipurpose venue.

Addington Hospital is undergoing a three-year R1bn upgrade that started in 2013, and the final figure for the Addington Children's Hospital is expected to about half a billion rand.

Appointing a dedicated manager would be the way to go, said Brian Wright, the project leader for the Umhlanga Urban Improvement Precinct programme. The latter is a dedicated team looking after the Umhlanga area which aims to improve safety and quality of life, and stimulate economic opportunities and investment.

Reporting faulty streetlights to the municipality and starting initiatives to remove graffiti also fell within their ambit of its work.

"From our experience, having a dedicated phone number and a… person streamlining incidents and plans, makes a great difference," he said.

The Independent on Saturday


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