By Nyasha Chingono
INTEGRATED Financial Services Group Old Mutual is seeking authority from the Harare City Council to convert some of its commercial buildings into mixed use properties as a tough economy continues to weigh down the real estate market where voids exceed 50 percent.
Speaking to The Financial Gazette last week, Old Mutual Investment Group Zimbabwe managing director, Marjorie Mayida, said depressed economic activity had stifled growth of its property business, where fortunes have continued to wane.
“The property market is depressed mainly due to the economic activity that is subdued. So what we have been doing in the city centre is to convert our properties where voids are at 50 percent,” said Mayida.
“We have applied to the city council to be allowed for mixed use in our properties because legally properties in the city centre are supposed to be for commercial purposes,” she added.
With the economy increasingly becoming informal, property owners have been reducing rentals to avoid losing out on business while some are offering their buildings for none conventional purposes.
Old Mutual is therefore pinning its hopes on its SME Centre in central Harare, whose construction started last year.
“The SMEs centre is in line with the fact that we are becoming more and more informal,” said Mayida.
The Eastgate SMEs Centre — with capacity to house 500 SMEs — is expected to boost the company’s property wing upon its completion around April, next year.
“We were delayed a bit by the rains in January and February when we were five weeks behind time; but we are now operating at two weeks behind schedule. So we believe with the remainder of the year we will be able to close that gap,” added Mayida.
The project which is now 50 percent complete and will have 500 flats, offices and parking space.
The new SMEs Centre would occupy 11 823 square metres of prime retail space, configured to accommodate a diverse range of SMEs under one roof.
SMEs specialising in farm produce will be offered 2 000 square metres of refrigeration space for preservation of farm produce.
The centre will also accommodate 500 trading bays, offices and single bedroom flats for the convenience of the small business that have been operating from the streets.