Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Francistown’s BR Mall: dreams deferred?

The Botswana Railways (BR) mall project in Francistown, heralded as a beacon of economic revitalization, finds itself mired in uncertainty amidst a landscape of persistent economic challenges. Utlwangang Golebanye, the Managing Director of Botswana Railways (BR) Properties, recently shed light on the project’s precarious trajectory in an interview with the Sunday Standard.

Initially unveiled in 2014, the ambitious BR mall project aimed to inject vitality into Francistown’s economy, leveraging a significant investment of nearly P400 million. With an expansive 11.6-hectare plot of land lying dormant under BR’s ownership, the envisioned mall was poised to redefine the city’s commercial landscape. Anticipated features included retail shops, offices, a cinema, filling station, piazza, and football court, catering to diverse consumer needs. Phase one, allocated a preliminary budget of P200 million, was earmarked to cover approximately six hectares of the designated land.

However, the project encountered a myriad of setbacks, derailing its anticipated launch in 2017. Delays in securing investment partners and the disruptive impact of the Covid-19 pandemic emerged as formidable obstacles, impeding progress. Despite renewed efforts and the announcement of Time Projects as a strategic collaborator in 2022, the envisioned groundbreaking in April 2023 failed to materialize.

Golebanye, citing ongoing economic challenges, attributed the project’s latest stall to prolonged solicitation of off-takers. Diminished optimism among potential tenants regarding expansion into Francistown posed significant hurdles in stimulating demand for rental space. Francistown, grappling with overtrading, is facing the daunting task of reconciling aspirations for growth with the harsh realities of economic stagnation.

While Golebanye emphasized the project’s reliance on private funding sources, he acknowledged the necessity of meeting return thresholds before implementation. Compounded by the reluctance of targeted retailers to expand amidst prevailing economic uncertainties, the project faced a formidable uphill battle.

In highlighting Francistown’s economic dependence on diamond sales, Golebanye underscored the sector’s recent underperformance as a pivotal factor affecting the project’s viability. Against the backdrop of subdued economic prospects, the BR mall project’s fate hung precariously in the balance, contingent upon the city’s ability to navigate turbulent economic waters.

Despite these formidable challenges, Golebanye reaffirmed BR’s unwavering commitment to the project, underscoring ongoing efforts to surmount economic headwinds. As Francistown grapples with the complexities of economic rejuvenation, the BR mall project remains a poignant symbol of ambition and resilience in the face of adversity. Stakeholders and observers alike are watching with bated breath, the saga of the project as it unfold with hope that it will be a testament to the enduring quest for progress and prosperity in the country second city’s economic landscape.


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