Menlyn is positioning itself as the Sandton of Pretoria, with Africa's biggest shopping centre as well as the new Menlyn Maine precinct that will comprise 315000m² of shops, restaurants, hotels, health clubs, offices and apartments.
When it is completed, the precinct will include Sun International's first new development in 15 years, the R4.2-billion Time Square. It will include a casino, hotels , a conference centre and arena. Only Sun's GrandWest casino in Cape Town is larger .
The hotel precinct will have three-, four- and five-star hotels. The adjoining 8000-seater arena for events and concerts opens in October this year.
In May, construction kicks off on residential units at Menlyn Maine. The first phase will have 303 units priced between R1.3-million and R12-million, and there will be 550 apartments. Ten weeks after they were first marketed, 250 of the smaller units were sold.
Menlyn Maine Central Square opened in September last year with high-end restaurants such as Old Town Italy, which could leave many a Sandton restaurant in the dust with its fine finishes.
The precinct is adorned with the works of accomplished Pretoria sculptor Anton Smit, some of which have caused a bit of a stir thanks to their provocative nature .
Driving Menlyn Maine is architect-turned-developer Henk Boogertman, who has been working on the project for the past six years.
"We had the idea of building a green city and it's known as the first green star mixed-use development," said Boogertman. "The value of Menlyn Maine buildings alone stands at about R10-billion."
There are 16 green cities in the world partnered with the Clinton Climate Initiative, and Menlyn Maine would be the first in Africa, said Boogertman.
The development is owned by Menlyn Maine Investment Holdings, which is owned by the Government Employees Pension Fund represented by the Public Investment Corporation (PIC), and by Ice Finance, Equity Estates and Absa.
The PIC is moving into a new corporate office building in the precinct next month. The retail side is fully let and comprises 35000m² when one includes banks, a gym and the Bounce trampoline facility.
Around the corner from Menlyn Maine is Menlyn Park Shopping Centre, with more than 500 shops. It recently completed a R2.5-billion refurbishment, adding 50000m² and 200 stores, making it the largest shopping mall in Africa. The super regional mall is now 169253m², overtaking Gateway in Umhlanga and Sandton.
" Our linkages to the Gautrain and the Bus Rapid Transit System also bring convenient public transport to the precinct. People see the CBD as decaying, Hatfield has become more of a student neighbourhood and Brooklyn is now seen as becoming somewhat downgraded.
"Menlyn is near the highway. Many people and businesses want to latch onto the energy that we've created in the area. Some people call it the Sandton of Pretoria."
Dirk Prinsloo, MD of specialist research firm Urban Studies, said Sandton was a decentralised CBD and Menlyn was becoming the most important decentralised CBD of Pretoria.
Menlyn has a strong tenant mix and super-regional status, and is close to the N1 and N4.
With Menlyn being the country's biggest shopping centre, Prinsloo expects it to continue attracting people from Nelspruit, Polokwane and Rustenburg. The eastern and southeastern suburbs of Pretoria would also continue showing very good residential growth, he said.
Although some are calling Menlyn the Sandton of Pretoria, Prinsloo rejected this, saying one could not build another Sandton in South Africa.
"It's similar, but Sandton has 6000 hotel rooms, conference centres, 70000 to 80000 workers, about 600000m² of office space and it's the financial hub of South Africa."
Edward Ward, head of lease advisory at commercial property and investment company Jones Lang Lasalle, said new commercial areas such as the Sandton CBD and Melrose Arch were becoming more popular among the big corporations and to a certain degree medium and small businesses too.
"The tenants are paying more in rental but leasing less space because of the efficiencies in design and opportunities the buildings afford in the new way of working," said Ward.
"There's a large number of local and international companies moving there and it has green living perspective and a privately run CBD, which attracts clients from a security point of view.
"The common areas of pavements and gardens make it even more appealing."
The upmarket Capital Hotel Group, which is linked to the Central Square Piazza and surrounding public park, opens at the end of the month.
Capital Hotel Group CEO Marc Wachsberger said hotel offerings had historically been "terrible" in Pretoria .
"We've copied the Melrose Arch model, where you essentially have the hotel on the central square. Guests have eight restaurants to choose from."
The hotel, with 150 rooms and 50 apartments, cost R300-million to build.
Boogertman said: "We believe we will have a demand for apartments for one to three years, and then hopefully the demand for office space will return," adding that the precinct would be 70% complete once the apartments were built and the remaining 30% would be taken up by office space.
Around the area there is also Menlyn Retail Park, a large value-retail offering, banks and many car dealerships.
"This is how cities used to be," Boogertman said. "People used to live near where they work, and walk to work."