Building blocks: Mumbai set for next BKC of the back office world

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How does a developer create the city's next business district? For starters, Mumbai, toughest market in Indian real estate, has traffic clogging its road arteries. There is cut-throat competition for land. Most of all, it requires a contrarian strain to decide on investing tens of billions in a futuristic play for something that might take years to pull off.

Kamal Khetan, Chairman and Managing Director of Sunteck Realty, which built super luxury homes in the commercial business district (CBD) of Bandra Kurla Complex, says, “Connectivity to the island, supporting infrastructure and location are the three must-haves, before anything else.” He cites Belapur as an example of a planned CBD which failed to take off because of lack of connectivity to Mumbai. 

Khetan has acquired 23 acres in the 160-acre plot deemed as the Oshiwara District Centre (ODC) by the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) because of expected infrastructural changes — a flyover connecting the area to the developed suburb of Powai, a highway, a railway station, and two metro rail stations. 

Specifically, these include the operational Jogeshwari–Vikhroli Link Road (JVLR) flyover that connects ODC 
to Western Express Highway and Powai. Also, the Ram Mandir station on the western railway line (already operational) and nearby upcoming Metro rail stations that include Metro 7 line (Dahisar East to Andheri East) – Aarey and Mahan and stations and Metro 2A line (Dahisar to DN Nagar stretch) or the Adarsh Nagar station.

Karan Sodhi, managing director in JLL India's Mumbai office, says it will take a few years for the ODC to become an established centre . For 1.2 million sq ft of BFSI (banking, financial services and insurance) captive back offices at Nesco and 1.1 million sq ft at Nirlon are under construction.  Until they are complete, the ODC won't be ready. “What does have potential is the mini-campus model which Sunteck is developing and offering mixed facility usage,” Sodhi says, adding that in the next decade the ODC will be a mature business location. However, the potential for residential development is higher because of private projects being executed by developers. 

Principal architect Bharat Yamsanwar of Team One Architects, who has executed government projects for four decades, says: “The ODC, in particular, is a viable bet for residential projects because of nearby growth centres such as Andheri.” But for overall readiness of a CBD, it requires last-mile government push, which one can’t time or predict. 

While Khetan says his residences will be ready in a year and a half or so, he acknowledges it takes a minimum of a decade for any business district to fully mature. “BKC took around 15 years to get to where it is now. But if anyone saw it back in the day they wouldn't have thought it is possible," he says. 

Other developers RNA and Universal Group have also set up residential buildings.  Sunteck is architecturing a mini-campus akin to what Hiranandani has done in Powai and Lokhandwala in Versova. That's happening by creating residential, commercial and entertainment zones, fine dining, malls and high street retail, Khetan says.

Residential prices in ODC are currently around Rs 15,000 per sq ft, cheaper than Andheri West. “There are large corporations with big back offices in Goregaon but not enough residential complexes with modern facilities,” Khetan says.  Citibank, Standard Chartered and Kotak Mahindra all have primary offices in BKC, while their back offices are in the Goregaon-Malad complexes of Nirlon, Nesco, Mindspace and Infinity IT Park.

Gulam Zia, executive director at Knight Frank, says there is plenty of land across Mumbai but what finally determines the success of a business district is two things: the facilities that come together in a pocket of land, and the level of support from the government in allowing and making that happen.

History shows such plans have materialised. Neeraj Sharma, director at Grant Thornton, says BKC and DLF-Cybercity in Gurgaon are good examples of government planning along with private participation. 

Does the size of a land parcel play into the rate of success for a CBD? BKC, for example, stretches across almost 900 acres. Sharma says in Indian cities, especially Mumbai, a couple of hundred acres or so is sufficient. “The right amount, as in acreage of land too is vital but if it's too far out from the city centre, it becomes irrelevant,” Khetan adds. 

Sharma adds that in most districts the heart of the action — business or residential — is developed on 150 acres or so. “Look at Hong Kong and it’s clear that size is not so important. It's to do with smart future planning and delivering what residents need, to work, live and play and in," he says. That's the future.

Building Blocks

Future Districts
  • Oshiwara District Centre
  • Dombivili-Kalyan Axis
  • Vikhroli-Mulund Axis
  • Eastern-Waterfront Project (Colaba to Wadala)
  • Wadala
The Formula For A CBD
  • Sizeable acreage to support internal infrastructure
  • City connectivity that translates to a comfortable commute
  • Proximity to key residential pockets for work force 
  • Flexibility of remoulding with changing times 
  • Balancing environmental safety concerns

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