Forty-five years ago, Jimmy Omar started a stall on the Cape Town Station forecourt in Adderley Street, along with many other traders, selling women’s clothing to earn a living.
Now the same space is set to be occupied by a 120-room hotel, re-tail space and office block.
The R1 billion development by the Passenger Railway Association of South Africa (PRASA), has been approved by the City, and is set to be completed by 2019.
The development of the large open space follows two major upgrades of the station in the past 10 years – the R4 million upgrade of the Cape Town station for the 2010 World Cup, and the upgrade of the Adderly Street and Strand Street open spaces in 2011.
And while most businesses in the vicinity of the forecourt were unaware of the plans by Prasa to develop the site, the shop owners who did know about the plans, raised concerns about noise during construction, security and the struggle of Prasa to maintain its already-built infrastructure.
Mr Omar, who is also the director of the Cape Town station deck market, said he will be ending his lease inside the Cape Town station at the end of this month.
“I have nothing good to say about Prasa. The rental here is higher than at the V&A Waterfront, but the way this place is managed is terrible. They could be utilising this development money much better. They are looking for turnover instead of concentrating on better managing this space. It’s sad because this station could have been something wonderful.”
However, Prasa believes the development will promote business in the area, and that it “will create a destination in complete sense of the transport orientated development”.
Another business owner, who did not want to be identified, said a Prasa representative had infor-med her of the development.
“We have major problems with the management of this station,” she said. “With the security and cleaning staff, we always have to be on their backs.
“We also pay a very high rental here; higher than at the Waterfront. Prasa justifies this by saying 100 000 people pass through the station every day. But when the trains are late, commuters don’t have time to sit and eat. Prasa should be focusing more on the commuters.
“We are not against progress, but that progress has to take us into consideration. It’s senseless creating more retail space when what is here is so poorly managed. To add another development, they need to be in control of what is happening, but they are not.”
Patrick Gombert, the executive manager of the Intersite Asset Investments department of Prasa, said about 10 years ago, the station had reached a point where the building and tenancies at the station had become obsolete and needed urgent interventions to ensure it could meet its growing demand, and ensure that thousands of commuters experience and improved facility.
He said as a result of the demand, a number of areas in and around the station had been upgraded, including the Strand Street concourse, the upper station deck, new ticket loading facilities, ATMs and convenience stores. He said the water, sewerage and electricity has also been upgraded.
General secretary of the United National Transport Union , Steve Harris, said in a media release, that he had beendisappointed to read in the media that the struggling Prasa would contribute to this development.
“The Passenger Railway Agency of South Africa must fulfil the promise the company made to the widow of slain driver Pieter Botha before it spends money on yet another facelift for the Cape Town station,” he said, referring to the train driver who was robbed and killed on Netreg Station on Monday July 11.
Of the security concerns, Mr Gombert said during the refurbishment of the station, Prasa had built an office for SAPS’ Rapid Rail unit. He said a security task team, which included SAPS, Law Enforcement, Prasa Asset Protection and Prasa Cres, met every second week to deal with crime in and around the station precinct.
“To date, operations were initiated and successfully carried out. These operations are continuous and include the City’spublic transport employees, who are managing the taxi rank on the station deck.
But Mr Harris said it was not only Cape Town station, or Netreg station that needed security upgrades. “Prasa urgently needs to assess safety of all its stations across the country and do a proper evaluation of increased security needed to prevent a similar incident like the brutal robbery and murder of (Mr) Botha.”
He said the union demanded an investigation into why there had been no security guards on the train station when Mr Botha was attacked and shot.
Meanwhile, Mr Gombert indicated that development at the Cape Town station did not stop at the hotel, and plans for more upgrades would be auctioned, such as the refurbishment of the old parade concourse, on which more traders would be accommodated, plans to develop the Good Hope concourse and the development of a master plan for future development of the Cape Town Station.
“Prasa has adopted the concept of continuous improvement and renewal. The new development is an attempt to improve the service and product offering (to) the growing commuter base, which is attracting more passengers of a higher income base. Our strategy is in line with the City’s vision, which is to create world class facilities with improved management.”