The Strand Street Concourse as it looked like some years ago. Photo: CoCT

Cape Town - The Strand Street Concourse in the Cape Town CBD, built as an underground pedestrian walkway in the early 1970s, is undergoing a major refit, the city said on Sunday.

The concourse, owned by the city, was part of a broader network of underground walkways that served as a critical pedestrian link between the Cape Town Station precinct and the St Georges Street, Woolworths, Old Mutual, and the Golden Acre shopping malls, the city said in a statement.
 
The entire network was often confused as being a part of the Golden Acre Mall - the oldest mall in South Africa. The concourse allowed for protected pedestrian movement across busy Strand Street and Adderley Street, with a number of exit points into the heart of the central business district.
 
A foot count conducted during the feasibility stage of the upgrade project revealed that about 62,000 people moved through the concourse each day. The foot count was done on a clear day and it was assumed that this number could be higher when the weather turned inclement.

Additionally, the results revealed that about 33% of pedestrian traffic occurred between the morning peak of 7am and 9am, and 43% in the afternoon peak between 4pm and 6pm.

Construction under way at the concourse. Photo: CoCT 

"The time patterns indicate that the Strand Street Concourse is an integral thoroughfare to the CBD, rather than a destination. One can comfortably deduce that pedestrians make use of the concourse to avoid the heavy vehicular traffic. They are able to move quickly without being hindered by traffic lights to get across the busy intersection. In addition, the concourse offers protection from inclement weather conditions," mayoral committee member for assets and facilities management Stuart Diamond said.
 
With the incorporation of commercial activities, the management of the concourse became fragmented as its status gradually shifted to that of an informal mall. This led to the original purpose and functionality as a pedestrian thoroughfare being whittled away to be replaced by the activities of a mall over time.  
 
Eventually this caused an overall collapse of a cohesive management system for the facility that ultimately led to a decay of the infrastructure and deterioration of the lease management of the commercial activities.
 
An example of this was the escalators that had been in a state of disrepair for many years and the fact that the concourse could not be closed after hours, leading to this once bustling public space becoming a haven for anti-social behaviour.
 
The city’s property management department stepped in to the fold in 2012 and decided to consolidate all management functions of the concourse under its own control. A specialist consultant was appointed to conduct a feasibility study on the business model of the facility.  
 
"The recommendations of this feasibility study, coupled with the shortage of office space in the Civic Centre, resulted in the facility being earmarked for use as municipal offices instead of pursuing the commercial route once again. The concourse as a public walkway will not be affected by this decision to use the space for municipal purposes," Diamond said.
 
The scope of work, which started in September 2016, included replacing the six escalators as well as the design and construction of new escalator landings at street level to provide ease of access for pedestrians; retiling the entire area; fitting new shop fronts throughout the space; compliance with all health and safety requirements; installing new lighting and a new electrical reticulation system; cladding of all pillars; installing building control systems; maximising the commercial and office space; upgrading the heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning system; installing new roller shutter doors at all entrances; construction of a banking court to cater for ATMS of all the major banks; construction of a municipal court with holding cells; and construction of new ablution facilities.
 
The entire refit, spanning 1752m², had now reached the last mile of the major construction work. Upon completion, public interface services would include two community courts, municipal pay points, a centre management office, and offices to accommodate the city’s departments of social development, building development management, and environmental management. These public interface offices would operate during normal working hours and would be closed from 10pm to 6am daily for security reasons.
 
"Thousands of residents make their way to the city centre on a daily basis and many previously made use of the concourse as a thoroughfare. It therefore makes perfect sense to have municipal services available within easy reach by taking services closer to our residents. I am sure that once the revamp has been completed the pedestrians will be back in their numbers to make use of this public space again which will be a lot more comfortable than it was before," Diamond said.