Rajarhat New Town- The future retail hot seat of Kolkata

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When it comes to spotting the hot seat of kolkata’s retail real estate development, the search ends at Rajarhat, the new satellite township that is being acknowledged as the future face of this legendary metro city. Spread over 3500 hectares of land, this new township is going to hold the key to Kolkata’s economic growth for future years. In fact New Town Rajarhat is being developed as the hub of software and electronic industry with the leading global software giants, foreign investors, multinational banks, leading fashion retailers, mall developers vying each other to launch their projects here.

In keeping with the rising urban infrastructure in the area, New Town has been a dream destination for retailers and mall developers. Explaining the area’s merit as retail hub Rahul Todi, managing director of Bengal Shrachi says, “In the last five years, all large, talk of the town projects have been planned in this area. Right from the big residential projects to retail and office properties all are happening at a large scale here. The location is also convenient and in fact it has given the city a new route to reach the airport.”

Almost three times bigger than Salt Lake City, the satellite township is spread over 4 action areas covering approximately 3500 hectares of land. Being conveniently located at just 10 kms from central business district of Kolkata and one kilometre from Dumdum airport, the township has been planned as a green and eco-friendly city with ample open space, water bodies, parks along with sports complex, retail infrastructure, hospitals, business centres, schools etc. Covering four action areas, the township has almost 35 lacs square feet area of proposed organised retail space and the figure is expected to increase as the township becomes live. “It’s very exciting to see how Rajarhat is coming up as a quality township. It is a promising area for future real estate development. The location is very premium as it is directly connected with the E.M Bypass and just a few minute’s drive from the city,” says Mayank Saksena, associate director, Jones Lang LaSalle Meghraj (JLLM). Apart from a huge number of residential properties, commercial space coming up, the satellite township undoubtedly holds immense potential for retail development. Stretching from Salt Lake sector V to Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Airport, the 3500 hectares of land accommodates ambitious projects by the leading developers of the country including DLF, Bengal Shrachi, Ambuja Realty, Bengal Peerless and other such names.

One of the most prominent projects coming up here is City Centre : Newtown, developed by Ambuja Realty. It has been conceived as a sequel to its most successful project City Centre Salt Lake. “The mall, located in action area II of Rajarhat, first of all, takes the comfort from the fact that it is located 15 kms North of City Centre Salt Lake. It will cater to a large segment of people living in Ultadanga, Lake Town, Baguiati, Dumdum, Jessore Road, Barasat, Birati, who either don’t have the access to a mall or have to travel a greater distance to access a quality family destination.” says Harshvardhan Neotia, chairman and managing director, Ambuja Realty. The 4 lacs square feet gross leasable area of the mall would house approximately 425 tenants. While the two major anchor stores of the mall are Pantaloons and Food Bazar covering about 55,000 square feet area, other major tenants include Mc Donald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut, Costa Coffee, Titan, Levis, Biba, Fabindia, Archies, Raymond, Adidas etc. The mall will also house a four screen Inox multiplex. With two basement floors dedicated for car parking, the mall boasts of accommodating 1000 cars at a time. The mall is undergoing its fit outs and hopes to open its doors by September 2009.

Another promising projects in this area is Axis mall. Being developed by the city based Bengal Peerless group Axis mall covers almost 4.75 acres of land. Built on 5, 37, 000 square feet area the mall will cater to almost 20 lakh population residing in New Town and 3 lakh IT professionals working there. Among its other major names to be present here, Reliance Retail has already signed up with Bengal Peerless to come up with their first hyper mart format and the mall also has a block dedicated for national and international jewelery brands including Mumbai based Geetanjali group, Asmi, Nakshatra, Sangini, D’damas etc. The block B of the mall has a mix of retail and commercial office space accommodating various ATMs, non-banking companies, financial and insurance companies, personal asset management companies, share trading companies etc.

However, New Town’s first operational large format retail store is Home Town in action area I. Covering almost 2 lakh square feet area, the Home Town is developed as the one stop shop for furniture, furnishing, kitchen fittings, home décor items, home electrical fittings, lightnings, consumer durables and electronic appliances etc. It also has a 4000 square feet Food Bazar. “Block by Block was conceived as a home solutions mall that would cater to the large number of residential projects and commercial spaces in the vicinity. When we started construction in late 2005, the New Town was still in its nascent stage and it was very difficult to convince the local retailers here. Home solutions being a niche segment, there is just a handful few local retail brands in home solution segment, so we faced difficulty in finding quality vanilla retailers for the mall. Moreover, Home Town format matched with our perception of the mall,” says Todi.

Although the area is gradually getting its life but the growth of its real estate development has been dampened to some extent by the global economic downturn. While even two years back work was going on for at least seven shopping malls, each with an average retail area between 2 lakh to 4 lakh, many of them are now posed with a threat of uncertain future. According to sources out of 7 malls projected in action area I, II and III but today the only active project is City Centre New Town. In fact the economic slowdown has forced players like DLF to put their projects on hold. Though it had initially two malls in action area I but now the company is giving it a second thought. “Though the work for DLF Galleria is still on but the process is slow. It’ll take about two to three years to complete and everything would depend on how the market turn out then.” says Saksena. DLF’s proposed 70,000 square feet retail space planned with the IT park has already been converted into a mix use property. Xtra, the 2 lakh square feet mall proposed by a local developer in action area I, has already been converted into commercial space. New Town’s another mall Terminus spreading over about 2 lakh square feet area has also become a commercial use space. Even one of the most promising land mark project from Bengal Peerless is also struggling to retain its tenants while a few like Globus, Pyramid and Fun Republic have already called off the deal with the mall.

Apart from the economic scenario there are also a few infrastructural issues which are worrying the developers like power water, sewerage connections which are yet to be established. In spite of Government’s reassurance, the area is yet to receive its basic amenities. Although experts believe that despite the initial roadblocks the New Town will be the most modern site for all real estate actions. “Retail can come to a location only when you have business activities and denizens there. Rajarhat New Town will still take another three to five years to become alive. Although office space are becoming operational but the most critical element is the residential projects which are yet to be operational. Unless the density of population of a certain class increases, retail ventures cannot be successful in that area. Retail will have more opportunity in that area down the line when these residential projects become live.” concludes Saksena.

By Piasi Sinha

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