Bring the city back to life

2018-11-01 16:05
The City Hall’s iconic clock has not been working for several months. It isn’t broken, but needs maintenance.

The City Hall’s iconic clock has not been working for several months. It isn’t broken, but needs maintenance. (Ian Carbutt - File)

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New Finance Minister Tito Mboweni let us know in no uncertain terms in last week’s mid-term budget review that the government is near broke.

So who will grow our city?

Sure, we learnt from the provincial government that some big, new investments are planned for KwaZulu-Natal, but none of these is situated close to Pietermaritzburg.

And yes, Msunduzi Municipality told us that R1 billion of private and public-sector funding is going into the Edendale Urban Hub, a suburban development. There are also some municipal-led housing projects under way.

But, as any local construction company owner will tell you, the overall level of new investment in this city, and the Midlands, is very, very low indeed.

It is insignificant compared with the multibillion-rand projects that are announced almost weekly out of Durban and along the North Coast, for example. And Pietermaritzburg is meant to be the capital city.

It seems as if nobody is conceptualising new opportunities for this city.

Why doesn’t the municipality appoint a dedicated investment promotion unit, like eThekwini has done?

How about lifting the moratorium on municipal land sales?

But it is not right to say that some forward thinking is not taking place.

For instance, local businessperson Barry du Plessis related an interesting concept to me this week.

Broadly, it involves redeveloping Alexandra Park as a top, modern sports centre, a place where families might want to go and visit again.

Durban has a sports precinct around Moses Mabhida Stadium, and it has become a vibrant part of the city. But Alexandra Park could potentially be much more than the Durban model in terms of the sporting and other facilities on offer, largely because there is still developable land in the precinct.

The 85-hectare Alexandra Park, established in 1863 and once a cheerful spot for family outings, has become a filthy, poorly maintained place that is not safe for anybody, at any time of the day or night, never mind the children for whom it was initially developed.

The Witness has received so many calls about the litter that is left behind in the walkways and on the lawns every weekend, after this or that event, or some social in the parking lot, that we have lost count.

The place is a disgrace and I would bar my children from ever going there. It seems destined forever to be an eyesore in the city.

There are some sporting facilities, although they are mostly derelict and poorly maintained.

These include for cricket, bowls, tennis, swimming, cycling (a velodrome and BMX) and an outdoor gym.

The city has “kind-of” made a tentative step forwards in the revitalisation of Alexandra Park as a centre for excellence in sport, with the opening last month of the new, world-class KZN Athletics (KZNA) track, which is situated right next to the park.

The Harry Gwala Stadium, adjacent to Alexandra Park and home of Maritzburg United, is a well-utilised venue.

Alexandra Park is already, essentially, a sporting precinct. It just needs a very big injection of capital and creativity to lure the people and events back to it.

Pietermaritzburg is crying out for more outdoor leisure and entertainment facilities — lifestyle trends show more and more people of all ages adopting healthier lifestyles.

The sporting facilities at Alexandra Park all need upgrading, bar the new athletics track.

In 2016, there were plans to build a new indoor velodrome near Oribi Airport. But for various reasons, which included finding R120 million, the project never got off the ground.

Why not borrow aspects of this plan?

These included the possibility of constructing a multi-use sport centre, with table tennis, gymnastics, judo and many other facilities. Why not put a roof over the velodrome in the park?

Such facilities would also attract other professions, such as dieticians, physiotherapists and anti-doping agency officers.

Pietermaritzburg is already a sport-mad city. Surely there are some innovative developers who could turn this precinct into a win-win for the city’s people, municipality and private sector?

The park would also need new, vibrant lifestyle elements, like possibly a 10-pin bowling hall and leisure-orientated retail and restaurant facilities.

It could easily also accommodate a top hotel and offices, possibly on the banks of the Duzi River.

And how about revamping the pavilion, bringing in some massive screens to broadcast major sporting events, or music concerts or other public events, and how about making it a safe place again, to visit even at night?

Pietermaritzburg’s CBD has essentially died at night, and this is unlikely to change in the near future.

But Alexandra Park is just down the road, and can bring life back to the city with the right vision from City Hall.

The residents of this proud and historic city definitely deserve it.


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