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Friday Feb 19, 2010

Joburg 'sits on sidelines as Braamfontein sinks into decay'

The gateway to the inner city of Joburg, lower Braamfontein, is sliding into ruin. So say property owners who have invested millions of rands in renovating properties in the area.

Property entrepreneur Adam Levy, who has bought several buildings across the way from the Nelson Mandela bridge, is infuriated.

"The grass verges don't get cut," he said. "Vagrants are sleeping under the bridge, making fires. There are water leaks everywhere and holes in the pavements.

"All these things have been reported weekly for years, but nothing gets done," he said.

Levy has renovated several buildings in lower Braamfontein, including 155 Smit Street, where he lives in a multimillion-rand penthouse that has been featured in The New York Times and in international upmarket design magazines, such as Wallpaper.

"We have had film crews and international journalists coming here to feature the regeneration of Braamfontein, only to see the deprivation around us. It is soul-destroying," he says.

The grass and weeds on the pavement were shoulder-high after the rains last week, so Levy got his own team in to clear it up.

Lights on the Queen Elizabeth Bridge have not worked for years, and this has increased muggings and smash-and-grabs.

Levy is passionate about Braamfontein. He recently reopened the Alexander Theatre, which had been closed for years, and bought the Milner Park Hotel, a 120-year-old building which is the second-oldest pub in the inner city.

"The pub is still open but the rooms upstairs are closed," he says. Levy intends turning the hotel into residential units.

"The private sector is investing millions in upgrading lower Braamfontein but the council is doing nothing to assist.

"It should not be incumbent on the private sector to have to make sure that street lights work, that paving is replaced and maintained, and that the overall security and beautification of the area be done by ourselves exclusively," he adds.

Levy has corresponded with the council on at least a weekly basis to involve themselves in the upgrade of the area over the past seven years.

"My protests have fallen on deaf ears. The city has invested in public artworks, but what does that do if the infrastructure is decaying?

"They want me to join the Braamfontein Improvement District and to pay for cleaning and security, but I refuse to do so.

"I refuse to bear any additional costs over and above the ones I already have, which are extortionist rates-and-taxes accounts, exorbitant water and electrical accounts, the cost of several permanent security personnel, and the unnecessary burden of employing four cleaning staff whose exclusive job it is to go around pulling weeds, pruning trees and making sure the area is kept in a respectable state.

"When I last checked, all of these were the responsibility of the city," Levy adds.

From his experiences with the supplementary business improvement district levy system at the Alexander Theatre, he found there were innumerable flaws in the system, particularly since property owners who paid for additional services had to use the Central Johannesburg Partnership and Johannesburg Development Agency as intermediaries.

"There is no direct recourse to third-party operators who do not perform."

Rob Lowden of South Point Property Holdings, a major developer in Braamfontein, said: "Braamfontein is in an absolute filthy state - so much for a world-class city."

Lebogang Molapo, manager of the Newtown and Braamfontein improvement districts, says lower Braamfontein property owners are refusing to join, so there is nothing that can be done to assist them.

The Star


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