United Africa Upbeat about Namundjebo Plaza

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By Mbatjiua Ngavirue

WINDHOEK

While some people might be sceptical about the need for a new shopping mall development in Windhoek, Executive Director of United Africa Group (UAG), Haddis Tilahun, is optimistic about the prospects for Eliakim Namundjebo Plaza.

He pointed out that Eliakim Namundjebo Plaza is a mixed development, including a five-star hotel, retail space, office space and parking.

The development makes provision for three floors of parking, with 1 800 parking spaces.

In addition, the new plaza will make provision for replacing the 168 existing municipal parking spaces between the Supreme Court building and the western side of Independence Avenue.

Tilahun addressed concerns raised by some estate agents that there may already be a surfeit of retail space in Namibia.

Some property agents feel there is an over-supply of over-priced, high-end retail space while there is a severe shortage of affordable shop space in good locations for the small business person.

He said that from a developer’s point of view they looked at issues such as population size in relation to disposable income, demography and other key indicators.

These became benchmarks for establishing whether or not there is a market for new retail space.

“Once you have established that, you can decide what type of retail product can be introduced for that particular market,” he explained.

Tilahun is confident the development itself would have its own dynamics that would create its own circulation of people, plus extra disposable income.

The project itself would create employment opportunities which, in turn, would give people in the city more income to spend.

“The market will correct itself and, by doing that, will create new opportunities,” he said.

He would neither confirm nor deny early speculation that retail space in Eliakim Namundjebo Plaza will sell for around N$25 000 a square metre, or N$2,5 million for an average-sized shop of 100 square metres.

“The cost of retail space is based on the cost of construction but, although I can’t say exactly how much it will cost, pricing will be very competitive,” he promised.

The architectural design, however, provides for a permanent, well-established and organized merchandising floor that will accommodate small and medium-sized retailers.

He also pledged that UAG would not push out the curio-sellers peddling their wares on the pavement of Fidel Castro Street on the northern side of the development, but rather make them part of the development.

The most controversial aspect of the development is the proposed five-star hotel.

Reports that UAG was in negotiations with City Lodge Group to manage the hotel, somewhat compromised the company’s credibility.

Most people know City Lodge better for bed-and-breakfast type accommodation, not for anything remotely resembling five-star hotels.

Tilahun, however, predicted a huge swing and growth in Namibia’s tourism market, particularly with the upcoming 2010 Football World Cup in South Africa.

“There is continuous demand for corporate business accommodation, and facilities such as conferencing,” he noted.

In the 17 years since independence, Namibia’s annual GDP growth averaged 5%.

“So if we don’t make provision by creating new accommodation today, we cannot be part of either the regional or the global economy. We are developing the project with an eye to 2010 and beyond,” he said.

He expects groundbreaking on the project to take place within the next few months, with construction to be completed 36 months thereafter.

The architects are Leon Barnard Architects, with Urban Dynamics acting as project managers.

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