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Offering its visitors the full spectrum of all-round entertainment, Durban’s Gateway shopping centre continues to thrive, with its vision to remain the greatest entertainment and shopping complex in the southern hemisphere very firmly at its core
ess than a decade ago, Umhlanga Rocks was a very pretty but largely undeveloped holiday destination for South Africans who didn’t want to get involved with the hurly burly of Durban’s Golden Mile. Just 15 kilometres away from downtown Durban, Umhlanga was still largely in the business of growing sugar cane; but the seeds were already in place for immense and rapid changes. The geography of Umhlanga meant that there was little scope for development around the existing town centre. Today, the focus of attention is in the new town, a couple of kilometres away on top of a rise which provided office developers who got in early enough with the most spectacular views down the coast towards Durban, Africa’s biggest port and the gateway to Southern Africa. From the mid 1990s there were plans for a shopping centre in Umhlanga; but it wasn’t until October 2001 that Gateway opened its doors, with 140,000 square metres of GLA (gross lettable area).
Umhlanga New Town Centre is becoming a mixeduse hub developed around a series of squares, parks and boulevards surrounding Gateway. A bustling business environment, it lies 15 minutes from the centre of Durban. Developments already completed in the area include the Umhlanga Hospital and Medical Centre, offices housing many of Durban’s blue chip and multinational companies, motor dealerships, the Crescent lifestyle centre, the City Lodge Hotel, residential developments, health clubs, private schools and places of worship. The Town Centre enjoys easy access to a network of major roads, including the N2, with Durban International Airport a 20-minute drive away. Together with the Durban Point redevelopment, the Riverhorse Valley Business Estate and the King Shaka International Airport, development of the area is helping to improve Durban’s competitiveness and attractiveness on the international stage. The greater commercial activity increases the market for existing businesses; more work opportunities create more demand for housing; which in turn supports the property market that has become associated with the north of Durban. This, of course, can only be good news for Gateway and its tenants—at least 4,000 new homes have been built in the vicinity and Gateway now attracts over 1.8 million visitors per month. What’s more, its catchment area is one of the most affluent in the country. South Africa’s second largest shopping centre after Sandton City, Gateway boasts 380 world class stores. It introduced the idea of ‘shoppertainment’ for the first time in South Africa, being modelled on world-famous centres such as Mall of America in Minnesota, USA; and Canada’s West Edmonton Mall. Approximately 40 per cent of Gateway’s GLA is directed towards entertainment of one kind or another—there are cinemas and theatres, cafés and restaurants, and it has one of only two IMAX screens in the country. It opened the first artificial wave machine of its kind and provides a skateboard park for youngsters and a concert arena in the Wave House complex. There’s also the Science Centre, where students from the region’s outlying schools can come along and experience hands-on experiments. In addition, Gateway also plays host to a 6,500 square metre Virgin Active gym with two pools. It’s perhaps the sort of complex where one would reasonably expect to find a casino among the many other entertainment attractions; but Old Mutual Investment Group Property Investments, which
manages the centre, has resisted the temptation. “There are already two casinos nearby,” says Adrian Raw, Gateway’s centre manager, “but Old Mutual prefers to remain with its family-oriented image and business strategy in which gaming wouldn’t be an appropriate fit.” Other services offered by Gateway include valet parking, conference facilities and 24-hour on-site medical and ambulance services. There is space for 7,000 cars, as well as a public transport rank on the property to ensure easy access. Gateway undertakes an enormous amount of work in providing customer service training for the members of its staff who are responsible for such roles as security, cleaning, parking, landscaping and waste management. Gateway has developed some novel methods of training. First, it exposes all new staff to the centre’s facilities. They can go to the IMAX and experience the attractions at the Wave House. They might even have the very first restaurant meal of their lives at Gateway. It’s all part of the process of explaining how customers are attracted to Gateway by the quality of the shopping experience; and that staff are an integral part of that experience. They are trained and encouraged to interact with customers, offering assistance or directions when asked, or even when they simply sense that someone needs help. Typical real-life scenarios and case studies form part of the training process and are given to staff in the form of an easy-to-read comic book. “It’s very rewarding,” says Raw, “to see someone with little or no customer service experience blossom and develop into a confident and capable staff member, who can then win promotion up through the ranks.” The overall customer experience is also surely enhanced by the natural beauty of the area in which Gateway is located. Open space in the New Town Centre strives to serve as a ‘green lung’ in the midst of the urban buzz, with thousands of trees and shrubs—85 per cent of which are indigenous—allowing the developed area to blend in seamlessly with the pristine and beautiful Indian Ocean environment. As Gateway continues to thrive, it is clear that the sensitive partnership between developers and planners has largely retained the simplicity and charm of the area, while providing residents and office workers with some of the best retail facilities in the world. www.gatewayworld.co.za
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