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How Garden City is coping with real estate slowdown

Chris Coulson
Chris Coulson, the Garden City CEO. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

The last 10 years have seen an exponential increase in the number of residential and commercial properties available for sale and renting in Nairobi.

Among such properties is Garden City, Kenya’s first mixed-use real estate project offering shops and family entertainment, including Kenya’s largest iMax Cinema, residences (both apartments and family townhouses), a range of amenities and commercial offices within one development.

But with the market showing signs of a slowdown in the uptake of commercial office space, and further slump in rental yields expected, what is Garden City’s approach to managing and navigating the situation?

The Business Daily spoke with the Garden City Development chief executive, Chris Coulson. Excerpts:

WHAT IS THE CURRENT STATE OF GARDEN CITY DEVELOPMENT?

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Garden City covers 47 acres and is being developed in phases. The residential and retail components were opened in 2015, with 159 apartments and 56 townhouses, and (at the time) the largest mall in East Africa designed around a three-acre public park. In 2017, we started work on the Business Park, which is on 15 acres.

We’re building two ‘Grade A’ office buildings this year, which are on schedule. These are the first of four that will make up the Garden City Business Park (a total of 25,000 square metre is being developed in phases, and due for completion in 2021). The first office building will be complete this month and is 60 per cent pre-let to East African Breweries Limited, and the second building will be completed before the end of the year.

We are now working on a phased middle-income residential development of 600 apartments and moving forward on plans for a new hospital as part of the overall business park grand design.

IN LIGHT OF THE CURRENT MARKET SLOWDOWN, WHAT OPPORTUNITY AREAS IS GARDEN CITY FOCUSING ON AT THE MOMENT AND WHY?

Thika Superhighway is one of the under-served business locations in Nairobi for international quality office space. Garden City Business Park is targeting both new and existing businesses looking for quality “Grade A” office space at very competitive rates, and away from the congestion of other office nodes. We have also responded to the office user’s demand for high parking spaces. This has been well received by potential tenants. Building A will be leased up very soon. Garden City offices are already open for lease.

We are currently positioning Garden City Residences for both rent and investment (buy to let) because while there has been a market slowdown in residential sales, we have had a lot of interest in rentals.

IS A BUYER MARKET A GOOD OR A BAD THING FOR THE LOCAL REAL ESTATE SECTOR?

In a buyer’s market environment, buyers tend to start looking at other features — like amenities and convenience. Price is one factor, but location is also very important.

If you have the option of buying or renting property that is within a residential compound, or a property that is within a mixed- use development, with office space available, a buzzing mall, with a medical clinic and cinema, and all the other facilities and conveniences on offer, and near to schools with safe family space like a park and playground on your doorstep, this starts to be a real differentiator and value-add proposition.

IN WHAT AREAS ARE WE DOING WELL INSOFAR AS THE BUILDING CODE IS CONCERNED AND IN WHAT AREAS SHOULD WE IMPROVE ON AS A COUNTRY?

We are seeing a greater awareness from leading developers around sustainability for both commercial and residential projects for material selection, water heating, harvesting and lighting. Green building practices are gaining interest, which is important. However, it’s always a balance with cost and end value.

The introduction and enforcement of health and safety standards is one area that has seen some improvement. But more can be done with regards to training workers and ongoing site supervision.

We take this very seriously and work with our building contractors and independent safety consultants to set high site standards, training and evaluation to promote safer construction sites.

Garden City also works closely with organisations like ArcSkills, offering skills training programmes for underserved trades such as carpentry, masonry, plastering, and plumbing.

WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE PUSH FOR ADOPTION OF GREEN BUILDING STANDARDS IN KENYA?

We’re one of the founding members of Kenya’s Green Building Society, and Garden City is the first mixed-use development in East Africa to gain LEEDTM Building Design and Construction certification, so we are committed and fully support the adoption of green developments in Kenya. There has in the past been the perception that green building would be more expensive, but this is not always the case.

There are more and more materials and techniques that can be incorporated into a project if it’s part of the plan from the start. And during the design stages, it’s important this is an integral driver. If you optimise natural daylight and ventilation within your design — for example, introduce solar shading — then you are able to eliminate air-conditioning for open plan areas, which is a saving you pass onto your tenant through lower running costs and is also better for the environment.

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