THE dilapidated old Tramways building outside the Port Elizabeth Harbour will soon be transformed into a stunning development incorporating an eco-friendly rooftop garden, restaurant, environmentally conscious tenants and unique local artwork.
Plans and artists’ impressions for the revamp of the 116-year-old building were released by the Mandela Bay Development Agency this week and work started on Thursday.
The development is divided into two phases, but the main first phase – the renovation of the building – is due to be complete by next January.
The restored building will house the new MBDA offices, and MBDA chief executive officer Pierre Voges said an "environmentally conscious” anchor tenant was also being considered to share the extra space.
"Two large halls that were once used to house the off-duty coaches will be restored to their original magnificence and will be utilised for local conferences, exhibitions and workshops,” Voges said.
"Provision is being made for a restaurant and a catering school to be housed in the finished building.”
He said tenants that would make a social contribution to the community through aspects such as training, capacity building and environmental conservation would be prioritised.
MBDA architect Dorelle Sapere said art would be one of the key aspects.
"There will be a sculptural courtyard and we’ll commission sculptors.
"Inside the old bus shed we’ll have a space where we will hang art from emerging artists.”
She said the footprint and shell of the double-storey building had been retained, with brick and timber windows in place of steel to honour what it once was, a working bus shed, but modern materials would be used where appropriate. "Upstairs there will be a grassed rooftop terrace with green vegetation walls.
"The approach to the upgrade of the building is to redevelop it taking into account the building’s heritage status as well as proximity to the Baakens Valley.
"The exterior of the building, particularly on the Baakens Street and Lower Valley Road side, will be restored to its original design.”
Sapere said phase two of the development would include a pedestrian bridge and cycle paths, linking the Tramways building to Bridge Street as well as to the northern bank of the Baakens River.
"One of the MBDA’s primary objectives is to bring people to the urban and historical heart of the city. This is achieved through promoting the historical significance of an area, creating art, culture and leisure focal points and by improving the infrastructure.”
Voges said the redevelopment of the building was much more than just the development of the building itself.
"It will be a catalyst for the redevelopment of the Baakens Valley from its present industrial use to a non-industrial use, such as residential, office, tourism and leisure and entertainment.
"It is this area of development in Nelson Mandela Bay that is not well-developed and most of the potential economic growth mostly lies in this sector.”
He said the allocation of land for a marina commercial development in the port by Transnet linked well with the MBDA overall approach.
"Development of the marina, the Tramways development and success story around the Bridge Street Brewery will provide a catalyst for non-industrial development that will significantly contribute to the city’s employment, Gross Domestic Product , rates and tourism base.”