#67 Transforming the Face of Port Moresby

A concerted energy is blowing through the historic streets of Port Moresby, transforming the once derelict Down Town Precinct into the site of future commerce.

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It seems that there’s a rejuvenated interest in the once bustling centre but why should anyone care remains a point of conversation.

The Down Town of Port Moresby has some of its old charm, though much to its shame, it struggles to show it. It’s all hidden behind the urban malaise of a precinct that has outgrown its streets. The sheer volume of people transiting to and from the Down Town has made the roads a daytime horror.

Streets piled with cars upon cars displacing pedestrians. Traffic lights that seem to only work in December. Bus stops that seem to stop more busses then the people they move and a stench that just can’t seem to leave the streets. The Down Town has been reduced to dwelling of its own filth.

Why anyone would still want to have an office there is getting to the point beyond reason.

And those reasons alone may be why the rise of the rivalling Harbour City and Waigani precincts may be so alluring to commercial tenants. Lord have mercy on anyone who starts thinking of putting residential apartments in the Down Town. They’d have a lot more to bargain with.

But let’s hope that will all change soon. If it does, it looks to be only the old and faithful Down Town dwellers that might be rewarded for their patience.

Who would be more deserving than the Steamships Trading Company with their hundred yearlong association with the historical precinct?

Arguably, they were the ones who started thinking of a new urban future for the Down Town. It was the Grand Papua Hotel (Douglas Street) followed soon after by their foreshore development that brought new interest back into the Down Town.

It was a bold move to invest when no one else was but it may have been more calculated that I am giving it credit for.

I speculate that they were drawing from the experience of the Swire Group – a significant shareholder – with their notable developments in Hong Kong with the likes of Taiko Place, Cityplaza, Pacific Place and the Citygate outlet. Swire’s Hong Kong developments are outstanding pieces of urban development, made all the more commendable because they were being built in a territory that could one day be claimed back by the China when the treaty time periods expired.

Swire Properties, Hong Kong

Perhaps the Swire Empire knows something the rest of us don’t.

So maybe it wasn’t that much of a surprise when Harbourside East-West emerged as a monument to the trust Steamships Trading had in the future of Port Moresby. The Exxon-Mobil LNG project may have had something to do with it but I prefer to think of it as Steamships taking the long view on PNG.

Steamships may have better foresight then the rest of us.

Harbourside East West, Downtown, Port Moresby

The 100-year-old company bet heavily on transforming a decrepit harbour into an ambitious space for eating working and playing. The bet paid off creating, what is arguably, Papua New Guinea’s premier mixed-use development; a point affirmed through a premier anchor tenant in Oil Search Limited.

It has also proven to be somewhat of a catalyst for other developments around the ‘Down Town – Harbourside’ Precinct. The neighbouring Nobel Centre, aspiring to be the highest tower in the rapidly crowding Port Moresby skyline, has shot up almost over night. Overlooking the harbour, the site of the Old Parliament House now boasts an office space complex and

– And still there’s more.

Hushed conversations suggest eager cashed-up landowners want to up the scale and intensity of their current land use within, and around, the Down Town. The cogs in their imaginations are beginning to turn again after a bit of Government elbow greasing with the radical revitalising of Ela Beach. Indeed, there appears to be no shortage of interest in this old part of Port Moresby.

And if that sales pitch doesn’t raise the FOMO-anxiety levels, maybe news of the extension to the Harbourside Development commencing in 2019 will. After 100 years, Steamships Trading Company has a bit of experience in seeing hope on the horizon.

Artistic Impression of Harbourside South, Stanley Esplanade, Port Moresby

Now, I’m going to try not to use some soppy sailing metaphor to describe how Steamships is ferrying a future vision of the Harbourside back to town – that would be too much. But maybe there is a sense of responsibility to be the face of change. Be that the case, then the reverberating mood is sounding more like “we’ve always been here, we just want you to come and join us again”.

But when that ominous second wind does arrive, it’ll be the storytelling sentimentalist in me wishing that it conjures up something different to what we are used to.


– Hans Lee

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