Property developer Gerald Olitzki of Olitzki Property Holdings is moving into the fine dining, art and fashion businesses. Well, not quite but he is making sure there is going to be plenty of these things in the inner city neighbourhood he hangs out in.
Olitzki’s efforts at converting the Marshall Street Barracks into a large open art and restaurant mecca have been thwarted but he hasn’t been put off. Instead, he’s found another location, right next door.
The derelict barracks was gutted by fire in October 2002. Olitzki wanted to pull up the 3 000m² tar parade ground within the site and replace it with landscaped gardens, accommodating emerging young artists in the space and in the intact three-storey barracks building on the north side of the grounds. He wanted to restore the rest of the site, with its classical façade, and install restaurants.
But, despite making approaches to the department of public works, which owns the building, he has been forced to make other plans.
Olitzki is most famous among inner city officionados for his energetic conversion of Gandhi Square, just a block from the barracks. He has taken an untidy and unruly bus terminus and converted it into a place with restaurants and coffee shops spilling on to the square, where some 25 000 people pass through daily.
He has converted almost all the buildings around the square into A-grade offices, all fully let.
Fox and Main streets
Not content with that, he has now moved into Fox and Main streets, leading off the square, and is busy converting some of Fox Street into his fine dining location. He is converting the two blocks between Kruis and Eloff streets leading up to the Carlton Centre, into attractive pedestrian walkways.
He is talking to a number of popular restaurant owners – Lulu, Butcher Boy, Vida Café, Sophiatown and Mimmo’s – with a view to them taking up ground floor space, with their tables spilling out on to the walkway.
”Each restaurant will have its own seating area and flow into the landscape of the area,” says Olitzki.
There are sufficient customers in the area, he adds, with a number of banks, in particular Absa, just a block or two away.
Olitzki has a lease on that section of Fox Street, so can be a little pushy with other property owners. He has asked them to tidy up their buildings, and they’re doing so with enthusiasm.
Fanuel Motsepe’s building
Architect Fanuel Motsepe of Motsepe Architects, who owns the building on the corner of Fox and Von Brandis streets, has given the exterior of his building an imaginative look. He says the building is of heritage value, dating back to the 1930s, and was owned by Boustred building suppliers. The unusual and colourful shapes on the exterior are a copy of a 1950s Johnson & Johnson mosaic tile on the sixth floor of the building.
”We were looking for an iconic, authentic treatment,” says Motsepe.
“In view of the historical value of the building, we have taken the earliest remaining fabric of the building, and layered it on to the existing environment, and created a new and vibrant environment.”
He is also revamping the ground floor restaurant, to be called Traffic Café, serving traditional, indigenous food. It will spill out on to the pavement, and is expected to open in about a month. The basement will serve as a lounge, which will be extend the hours into the evenings.
Olitzki has moved his operation into Main Street. He plans to create an arcade between Fox and Main streets, which will exit alongside a derelict building he calls Oscar’s building, and to be called Matomo Mall. He is talking to an international art gallery with a view to them moving into Oscar’s building. He is also talking to an antiques dealer. The arcade will contain an atrium and restaurant.
And across the road in Main Street, next door to the barracks, he has created two huge spaces of 1 000m² each – one on the ground floor, one above it on the first floor. He envisages a big brand local designer taking space on the ground floor, and on the first floor he sees local artists taking up the space, spreading out creatively.
But Olitzki is eyeing other buildings too. He has bought an old church on the corner of Marshall and Von Brandis streets, which is being renovated. He has thrown up a wall between the church and the vestry, and intends converting it to retail space.
”I want this thing to flow beyond Fox Street,” he says.
And he hasn’t forgotten customer parking. In Fox Street there are four levels of basement parking, providing diners with 150 bays. Below Gandhi Square there are 100 parking bays.