Breathing Life into East African Real Estate
Writer: Emily Jarvis
Project Manager: Stuart Parker
Having firmly established itself as the preferred property developer and urban management services firm in East Africa, known for its mixed-use developments and the creation of urban nodes, Centum Investments’ subsidiary, Athena Properties is capitalising on the Kenyan Government’s decentralisation initiative to tap into new real estate opportunities.
Meanwhile, the Company’s existing significant projects – including Two Rivers mall, the largest retail centre in sub-Saharan Africa, and Pearl Marina, Uganda’s destination of choice for tourists and locals alike – are taking shape as planned; showcasing Athena’s unwavering commitment to developing landmark projects that incorporate global best practices.
“Two Rivers mall is now ready for opening and occupation. The two office towers located at the top of the mall are in the final stages of completion and we are extremely pleased with progress of Phase 1 so far and are keen to push-on with Phase 2,” says Chris Ochieng, the Company’s Managing Director (MD). “Moreover, Pearl Marin Phase 1 is currently under construction with the show cluster scheduled to complete by November, 2016.”
Securing these high-calibre flagship projects was thanks to both Athena’s passionate workforce and alignment with the Company’s core values to create long-term value and sustainable, tangible wealth for clients and stakeholders. As one of many regional real estate giants stepping up to the plate to answer East Africa’s call for an end-to-end seamless construction service – comprising land acquisition, master planning, urban planning, project management, construction management, development management and project finance right through to asset management – Athena is not afraid to push the limits of what others deem impossible.
“We are the best because of who we are and what we value,” highlights Ochieng. “We strive to create an entirely new way of thinking for real estate in the region, doing our part to put East Africa on-par with the rest of the world. We take a grand vision and breathe life into it.”
To drive this grand vision, Athena is advantageously able to leverage the wider Centum Investment Group’s reputation and broader industry perspective of working in international markets to drive real estate opportunities across sub-Saharan Africa.
“The relationship between Centum and Athena is built purely on the principles of synergy and leverage. Centum is a reputable investment Company in East Africa that has participated in sealing multimillion investment deals across East Africa, Middle East, parts of Europe and East Asia. There is synergy between the Group’s other subsidiaries which also present opportunities. For example, NABO Capital, Centum’s asset management subsidiary has been known to help Athena secure structured funding for its projects,” he further explains.
Given Kenya’s status as the second biggest formal retail market in Africa, owing to the increased urbanisation and continuous growth among the middle-class, local real estate continues to be a lucrative area that presents opportunities for expansion, especially in the mixed-use sector.
“Consumer spending has gone up by more than 65 percent in recent times, making Kenya one of the fastest growing retail markets. This is an attractive figure for both local and international retailers who are beginning to look for the best malls and geographic locations to set-up shop,” says Ochieng. “And growth is not just in the cities, it has spread beyond into the satellite towns outside Nairobi, which now also present opportunities for retail expansion.”
In line with this, Athena has indentified that more can be done to strategically plan future urban nodes and mixed-use developments in the region; which is where the Company’s premium master planning skills come into play. The MD details: “We are moving in to fill these gaps by bringing our all-encompassing offering that makes us stand out from the competition; like tackling the additional infrastructure needed with a growing population such as healthcare centres, schools, recreational facilities and so on.
“Our strategy is to acquire land, conduct a feasibility study, master plan it, obtain approvals then put up developments that lift the value of the land and attract more developments. This has been successfully achieved at Two Rivers and Pearl Marina so far.”
With earthworks scheduled for the fourth quarter of this year, the Company’s latest project in Vipingo is to put this master plan to the test once more. The exclusive, mixed-use 9,500 acre coastal city will be anchored by industrial development and supported by high quality infrastructure. “Already dubbed a future economic hub, Athena’s objective is to develop the most competitive/lowest cost location for doing business in Kenya,” explains Ochieng. “Phase 1 will provide serviced land with complete connectivity to a reliable state-of-the-art trunk infrastructure to serve the development.”
In preparation for the continued growth and demand for infrastructure in East Africa, Athena has been investing in its internal capacities to engage the youth of tomorrow in the future of real estate. Aligning with Centum’s capacity building strategy, the Company has absorbed more than 12 graduate trainees since establishment in 2013. “This is done with a lot of guidance, mentoring and monitoring,” Ochieng emphasises. “I am happy to report that some of them are now lead project managers and competent leaders in their areas of specialty.”
Crucial to its line of business, Athena has in-house engineering capabilities which are continually improved through training and secondment programmes so that staff are exposed to emerging trends and international real estate markets.
Combining its strong project pipeline with these strategic internal investments, Athena is in the right place at the most fortuitous time in East African real estate history. “We have a lot on the cards and I believe that in a year’s time, we will be rolling out Phase 2 of the Two Rivers development – which will include luxury and branded apartments and development of a five-star hotel – and at Pearl Marina, we hope to begin delivery of apartments, a hotel and a residence club. Meanwhile, Vipingo’s trunk infrastructure, healthcare centre, vocational centre and social amenities will be under development,” Ochieng concludes.
“We will continue to focus our attentions on Kenya and Uganda, however, we are keeping a close-eye on emerging opportunities in Tanzania and Rwanda; with the ultimate long-term vision of operating across the whole of sub-Saharan Africa.”