Innocent Ruwende Senior Reporter
Harare City Council has defended its decision to sell a portion of Harare Gardens to hospitality group, African Sun (Pvt) Ltd saying the re-development will yield economic benefits.
African Sun intends to expand Crowne Plaza Hotel to include a state-of-the-art conference centre among other facilities. Harare Mayor Councillor Bernard Manyenyeni said the disposal was a compromise between total preservation and development. The city expects to rake in $200 000 in annuals rates from the deal.
Harare has come under fire from residents who argue that the Harare Gardens are historical and have provided citizens with a distinguished place to have their meetings, given its recreational facilities and centrality.
This follows the publication of a notice by Local Government, Public Works and National Housing Minister Saviour Kasukuwere seeking residents input as required by the law.
“There was violent debate in the Chamber last year when we sold the land.
“Because of the heat around the matter I opted to abstain from voting essentially in order to manage the possible fallout with a degree of neutrality as leader of council,” he said.
“I respect the outcome which was almost 50:50 and across political lines too.
“I am very much at peace with this transaction. It is a great compromise between preservation and development both of which we desire as a city with a past and a future.”
He said he was comforted that the partial sale was for only 2,2 hectares out of 17 hectares, representing only 13 percent of the gardens.
Clr Manyenyeni said a lot of people were mischievous in calling the transaction the sale of Harare Gardens which whips up emotions since it implies a total sale of the Gardens.
“The re-development will have economic dividends in terms of forecast earnings, enhanced conference capacities, job creation. The pricing was at a premium – over $80 per square metre which is more than double other high end pieces of land sold by council.”
“Council will get increased rates from a quality landlord who is expanding their operations. A separate site will not have the same effect of a strategic integration of their business – the hotel rooms are already next door.”
He said such a development will revive interest in the central business district for social activities and construction saying council has observed the suburban drift of offices and construction leaving premium buildings with voids in occupancy or low-quality tenants
“The last high-rise building crane in Harare CBD went up 20 years ago. Building frenzies are contagious and infectious – if we were to get another couple of developments we are igniting a construction boom in the CBD.”