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New centre’s scale enough to awe critics

A massive mall, which could be what Sandton City is to Johannesburg, is springing up outside Durban.

A while ago I spent time in Johannesburg by mistake. At the end of it I scuttled back to Durban where I missed little, bar the brilliant restaurants, the Wagnerian grandeur of the summer thunderstorms, the thrill of never quite sure whether one was going to make it home without an AK barrel being rammed down one’s throat, and the music of jack-hammers everywhere.

Now while to mist there are few sounds and sights less lovely than those of a construction site, to me they speak of prosperity, growth and the ascension of running-dog capitalism, or at least free-market enterprise over socialism, tribalism and whatever else.

So I cannot own to being overly disappointed when earlier this year Gateway, one of Africa’s biggest, glitziest shopping-cum-entertainment centres, began germinating just outside the one soporific resort of Umhlanga, 10 or 15 minutes away from Durban itself.

Of course the shopping mall concept has its detractors, chief being those who hanker after a romanticised High Street ideal and tend to live in Melville if they can afford it.

However, the sheer scope and scale of Old Mutual Properties’ burgeoning behemoth should at least temporarily awe critics.

The figures alone make for entertaining reading, with the likes of 127 000m2 of retail space (or almost double that of KwaZulu-Natal’s famed Pavillion), a total investment of R1,4bn (Kersner’s Lost City cost half that to build, if memory serves), and 5 000 working on site recalling the era of Stalinistic giganticsm.

Gateway, however, should be a bit cheerier than a tractor plant or whatever in the Urals.

“It is not going to be just another box-like shopping centre, ” says an enthusiastic project executive Brent Wiltshire. “Rather we are creating a sense of place for people, sort of like an Italian palazzo, in an environment where they can feel safe.

“We do not want to create another Pavillion – we are building something completely different.”

Which is why Gateway, or Gateway Shoppertainment World, to give it its full name, will be divided into a dozen or so different “experiences”, as they are called in marketing speak.

These will essentially comprise several different zones, from City Walk (an outdoor boulevard with palms and plenty of bars, restaurants, bistros and all that) through to Wildside (incorporating an Imax theatre and all sorts of leisure-orientated things) to Cybertech World.

And that is without going into Upper High Street, Futureworld Entertainment Centre and the especially promising-sounding Planet Blue which has to do with all things marine.

Completion is scheduled for September 2001, and an impressive monolith is already arching heavenwards, while the noise and contained chaos of the site is reminiscent of what an American ship yard working around the clock circa 1942 must have resembled.

But never mind its sheer size – that will probably be a drawcard on its own – or the fact that it is expected to cater for around 3 million people living within a 30 minute drive, plus heaven knows how many tourists who no longer find it fun to be mugged on the beachfront.

What excites an arena Natalian such as myself is that Gateway could well provide the impetus for a new central business district, or at least an economic hub, rather like Sandton City for Sandton – especially as the roads around the area are to be upgraded while there is ample space for office development in the immediate surrounds.

And it will no doubt provide me with yet another venue in which to aimlessly wander, spending money on an ailing credit card instead of sitting at home working.


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