Two years ago, property company Mashonaland Holdings was close to a deal to convert the iconic Charter House in the Harare CBD into a hotel. Last year, the company abandoned those plans and sold the building for US$7.4 million instead.
Now, the company has just broken ground on a new project, the US$15 million Pomona Commercial Centre. It is a project that best illustrates the death of the capital’s crowded city centre, and the move by property investors to more lucrative sites – from suburban office parks to Pomona, a new mecca for warehousing and retail.
In April, Mashold CEO Gibson Mapfidza spoke of his frustration with how old city by-laws, last reviewed in the 1990s, were holding back any plans to reimagine their properties in the CBD.
“We are saying to the city, land uses in 1996 and 2023 have changed. They need to rezone the entire CBD. What is happening in the CBD is not sustainable,” he said.
Last week, he presided over the launch of construction of the Pomona complex.
“This development is going to deliver a total of 14 000 square meters of built-up space,” he said. “Our new developments are motivated by the need to respond to market needs.”
Before construction, the company had already leased out 85% of the property, reflecting demand for such space. OK Mart will be the anchor tenant at the complex, which is due for completion in November next year.
Project architect Richard Beattie of Stone/Beattie/Munodawafa Architectural Studio said the new complex responds to demand from commercial clients, who want “modern infrastructure that reduces congestion”.
Pomona has seen significant growth over the past five years, attracting enterprises such as Halsted, Capri, Electrosales, Union Hardware, Autoworld and Driptech.
Apart from Pomona, Mashold has also just bought a 2-hectare property on Borrowdale Road to build a new office park
Last year, property company Knight Frank forecast more such projects, as commerce moves out of the CBD.
“With persistent issues regarding parking, street vendors and high levels of pollution, coupled with the increased rents, demand for CBD office space has fallen sharply, leaving voids of around 60% on average,” Knight Frank said in a report on the African property market.
According to First Mutual Properties Chairman, Elisha Moyo, the Harare CBD has the highest vacancy rates in his company’s portfolio.
“Further, the retail, industrial and residential sectors enjoyed relatively huge activity (in 2022),” he says.
First Mutual is currently expanding its Arundel Office Park, a project due for completion by December.