Council has approved the sale of a section of Harare Gardens to African Sun (PVT) Ltd in a deal that is expected to net $1.76 million for City of Harare.
African Sun, who are the owners of Crown Plaza Hotel in partnership with Legacy Group, have for some time been trying to acquire two hectares stretching north into Harare Gardens including the area occupied by Les Brown Swimming Pool and a section measuring 2,050 square metres – currently being used as a car park – to upgrade the hotel to meet world class standards.
The proposed sale has in the past divided councillors, forcing council to reject it. However, the sale was recently approved by a full council vote held on 7 May. The vote saw 18 councillors voting in favour of the sale while 14 were against it.
It is not clear if the notice of sale will be put up for public objection, but this approval means that the hospitality group is now poised to proceed with its plans to expand the Crown Plaza Hotel to include a state-of-the-art conference centre, open air restaurant and bar as well as a satellite kitchen.
In a recent presentation to council’s Finance and Development Committee, African Sun and Legacy Group also agreed to upgrade all public areas within the park including repairing various infrastructure, construction of a walkway (sky walk) joining facilities to each other and refurbishing the National Art Gallery including the sponsorship of local artists.
Minutes from the presentation read, “The Hotel [will] also [undertake] to relocate and modernise the Entertainment Recreational Stage further [within] Harare Gardens, construction of … Health and Racquet Sports facilities and incorporating Les Brown Pools, support and assistance with upgrading and maintenance of the whole of Harare Gardens and ablution facilities, [and] upgrading the surrounding area of Park Lane.”
This controversial development has led to public outcry. Stakeholders such as the Harare Residents Trust (HRT) have rejected the proposed sale of the land saying that the development will have negative social and environmental effects on the city.
“Council must consider that Harare Gardens serves as a recreational facility and breathing space for the city. Those firms who want spaces should be allocated land at the city outskirts,” says the HRT.
Harare Gardens is a popular recreational park that has been in existence since time immemorial. The area offers a place for residents to sit and relax, entertainment facilities, and a restaurant. It also provides the venue for Zimbabwe’s most popular arts festival, HIFA which takes place in Harare Gardens every year. Environmentalists also say that open spaces such as Harare Gardens serve as carbon sinks to absorb toxic gases.
In a related development, Council last month put up for sale another community park at the corner of Boshoff and Seke Road in Sunningdale. The park – which measures an estimated five hectares – sits on a former dumpsite that was turned into a recreational space through the efforts of volunteers from the Sunningdale community.
When contacted for comment after the land was advertised for sale in local newspapers, Councillor Hammy Madzimgira (Ward 10) – who played a major role in creating the park – said that he had no problem with the sale as long as it was beneficial to the community.
“I have raised some issues with council and they are still working on it, but as a community we would prefer that council sells the drier part of the park and leave the wetland. The buyer should also make sure to take care of the remaining space of the park,” said Madzingira.
Image: Crown Plaza Hotel, which is owned by African Sun, aims to expand the hotel into Harare Gardens