Baakens Valley upgrades unlock R950m additional production, over 1 100 jobs

Issued by Mandela Bay Development
Johannesburg, Aug 23, 2023
MBDA CEO Anele Qaba; MBDA project manager Thandi Mafu; and Mosaic Tourism tour operator Sean Mitri viewed the progress of the agency's rehabilitation of the historic St Peter's church precinct in South End, with statues depicting the fishermen and children who called the area home before apartheid forced removals.

R265 million in public and private sector investment in the Baakens Valley has generated an additional R950 million in production by businesses in the area and 1 133 direct and indirect job full-time jobs, according to an economic barometer released by the Mandela Bay Development Agency (MBDA) on Tuesday, 22 August.

The economic impacts of investments in the lower Baakens precinct also include a R163 million rise in total household income and a R310 million contribution to national GDP, the Baakens Valley Economic Barometer found.

The R265 million invested in the lower valley over the past 10 years includes R204 million by the public sector (the MBDA and the NMB Municipality) in road and environmental upgrades, the Tramways Building revamp, the pedestrian Unity Bridge over the Baakens River, and redevelopment of the historic St Peter’s church precinct.

Private sector investment has totalled R61 million on building redevelopments and new construction, while more than three-quarters of businesses in the area have invested a further R15.3 million in upgrades to their premises. Almost half of Baakens Valley businesses were positively influenced by the MBDA’s investments in the area to make improvements to their own premises over the past five years.

The research, conducted for the MBDA by development economists Urban-Econ, identified 60 businesses operating in the valley, together contributing R94 million to the metro’s GDP and employing close to 800 people. 

“The Baakens Valley is the core of our city, once a vibrant, cosmopolitan, multicultural area, a characteristic that is returning through the upgrading of the area. And it is also a crucial environmental corridor, the green lung of the city, with massive opportunities to stimulate growth in a diverse mix of office space, housing, leisure, conservation activities and social amenities,” Urban-Econ senior economist Thomas Parsons said.

The valley has seen positive growth over the past five years, despite the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic – 46% of businesses have hired new staff in the past five years, and only 11% have retrenched staff, while employment in the valley has risen 23% post-pandemic, Parsons said.

“Trends in employment growth were borne out in business turnover, with 48% of businesses indicating slight to significant turnover growth over the past five years. They attribute growth to increased foot traffic in the area, a recovery in consumer demand and adopting new business models,” Parsons said.

The Economic Barometer, a pilot for further economic impact assessments of the MBDA’s work in other areas, was released to Baakens Valley businesses and civil society stakeholders at an event forming part of the agency’s 20th anniversary celebrations, marking investment of over R1 billion over two decades in regenerating urban spaces across the metro. 

“The Baakens Valley redevelopment has had a positive impact on addressing traffic congestion and derelict buildings, and has brought new people into the area to invest, work and play. This is a good news story, made in Gqeberha, by the people of Gqeberha,” MBDA CEO Anele Qaba said. 

He said the survey clearly showed that the MBDA’s work was positively influencing the market and business decisions. 

“That is our role as a public sector development entity, to provide the stimulus that promotes confidence in the market and has a catalytic effect, creating an environment conducive for the private sector to invest. 

“Thereafter, the market must do its job and that is exactly what has happened,” Qaba said. Parsons said businesses in the valley viewed the MBDA’s interventions in the area positively. 

The Tramways upgrade and new pedestrian bridge were seen as positive developments by 86% of respondents, and 82% said the functional upgrades including the traffic circle in Lower Valley Rd and implementation of one-way traffic had improved the area. 

Qaba said the MBDA was taking action on concerns raised by businesses in the valley, predominantly crime and safety, as well as calling for further urban renewal such as street and infrastructure upgrades, and for improved business support.

He said addressing these issues would form part of the agency’s “total precinct management” approach, which would include managing security and cleaning.

“We are also looking at setting up one-stop shops in the areas in which we operate, where businesses can raise issues such as delays with rezoning applications and other municipal processes that hinder investment, so that we can facilitate and fast-track these,” he said. 

On crime, Qaba said discussions had already been held with several businesses in the area and a plan was in progress to work with all stakeholders to address security, and the agency would be going to market soon for solutions including additional patrols and CCTV cameras monitored by a control room.

MBDA senior project manager and urban planner Dorelle Sapere said future plans for the valley included a request for expressions of interest to be advertised this year for an urban/eco zipline tourism experience, while upgrading of the Baakens River park was in progress to “create a great outdoor space in the valley” for events, markets, tourist and leisure opportunities including cycling, pedestrian walkways and vehicle access.

Rehabilitation of the historic St Peters church precinct is also progressing into the next phase, Sapere said, as a project to create a public space that celebrates the Bay’s multicultural heritage, remembers the pain of forced removals from South End, and inspires hope for a better, more inclusive future.

Long a “wayfinder” for fishermen, the church precinct will be a place of celebrating heritage, sensitive to the memories of those forcibly removed from the area, and house facilities such as a coffee shop and memorial aspects, within walking distance for tourists from cruise liners.

Please click here to read the MBDA Mini-Economic Barometer Report.