In the past two years, leading corporations, including foreign and local investors have announced plans to set up or expand their manufacturing operations in Kenya, indicating increased activity in the industrial real estate market. The move is no surprise as Kenya continues to invest in better infrastructure, technological innovation, and skilled labor force. These factors have given rise to an increased appetite by manufacturers to invest in the growing economy. In a 2013-2014 report by the World Economic Forum, Kenya’s manufacturing environment index is ranked third after South Africa and Mauritius in Africa.
In December 2016, a group of international investors announced plans to set up an industrial park off the Eastern bypass near Kangundo road. Named Infinity Industrial park, the 200-acre project aims to meet the demand for production space by local manufacturers. Other projects underway include Northlands Commercial Park in Limuru, Nairobi Gateway Park on Mombasa Road, Konza City in Machakos, and Tatu City Industrial & Logistics Park on the Northern bypass. Alone, Tatu City has attracted manufacturers with companies such as Bidco Oil, Chandaria, Unilever East Africa and Heineken Distributors acquiring spaces for operations.
While the listed companies have been operating in Nairobi’s Industrial Area, congestion, poor-infrastructure, perennial traffic congestion, and run-down buildings are some of the main reasons manufacturers and distributors are eyeing new factory quarters. In a study by ETHZ Studio, Nairobi’s Industrial Area was set up with a master plan in 1948 to ensure better use and development of the area. The plan allocated operating zones for different industries in different categories based on their type of operations. Caution was taken to ensure there was no mix up between the zones and residential areas as well as the Central Business District. However, the plan was squashed by the colonial government and later by Independent Kenya resulting to a mix-up of industries and encroachment of residential areas that consequently made improvement of infrastructure almost impossible. Today, more than one-third of Nairobi’s Industrial Area and Export Processing Zones sit on Embakasi, an adjoining residential area. In the Coast region, Mombasa’s Industrial area is characterized by rugged manufacturing complexes of utilitarian design. To adapt to the needs of modern clientele, however, the coastal city is set to develop a Special Economic Zone to stimulate growth in the manufacturing sector.
As the shift to modern industrial development surges, there will be a need to reclaim and reinvent vacated industrial spaces. And while conversion into retail space provides an alternative usage, the stagnated uptake of commercial space due to oversupply suggests the need to diversify property developments. Unique housing units such as loft apartments can be developed.
A loft apartment is a unit of housing with a large adaptable space, high ceilings, and large windows. Some lofts feature exposed pipes and bricks. Up until recently, lofts were usually in a one-time industrial or commercial building converted into a residential apartment.
In developed countries such as the USA, the loft market began with the search for alternative uses of empty industrial buildings as the dispersal of manufacturing activities from established urban centers continued to increase in the early 1970s. Initially, loft living was characterized by the low-income demographic, but over time, lofts have come to be considered an expression of style, art, and prestige owing to gentrification. Usually, gentrification occurs when a higher class of individuals move into a neighborhood and renovate property, prompting an increase in property prices.
Loft living has gained popularity globally. The layout allows for better planning and a myriad of creative options for the open plan living space. Expansive windows that allow natural lighting have replaced the need for open outdoor spaces. In Kenya, The Lofts located at Wood Avenue, Kilimani, is one of the forerunner loft apartments building in Nairobi serving a high-end clientele.
In general, lofts appeal to various population groups. These include young single professionals, young dual income professional couples, single men and women of all ages, and older people in the 50s and above age group who wish to downsize while taking advantage of the city lifestyle. Lofts may also appeal to individuals who prefer an all-in-one floor design to multi-story houses.
Inarguably, the areas mentioned above in Kenya provide the best sites for loft space conversion. As part of the city core, these areas can be restored and marketed with the assurance of walk-to-retail that lacks in typical suburbs. However, this is not to say that loft apartment developments are limited to city dwellers. Towns characterized by sizable populations, educated young population base, significant economic growth, and increasing per capita income may offer prospects for such property developments.