TRAMWAYS UNDERGOING RESTORATION: MBDA begins renewal and upgrading of the old Tramways Building


The old Tramways Building, located on the corner of Lower Valley Road and Baakens Street in Port Elizabeth and for years an eyesore, is being refurbished to its former grandeur. 

Officially opened on 16 June 1897 as a result of the Port Elizabeth Municipality Tramway Act of 1895, the 116 year-old structure once added great status to the fledgling city of Port Elizabeth. Then it housed a power station that provided electricity to the city’s prestigious tramway fleet and the workshops that serviced these coaches from the turn of the 20th Century.

The Mandela Bay Development Agency (MBDA), as part of its mandate to grow and transform the Bay into a modern metropolitan city, is in the process of restoring and improving upon this grand old building. 

Dorelle Sapere, MBDA’s Planning and Development Manager, says, “We see the restoration of this building as a pivotal development for the whole of the lower Baakens Valley and it will be a crucial link between the development planned for the port as well as the urban renewal and transformation of the CBD and Central.”

The renovation and upgrading process, which will be carried out in two phases, already began in mid-February and is expected to take two to three years. However, an Environmental Impact Analyses (EIA) is still to be done on Phase 2 of the project.

Upon completion, the restored building will become the new offices of the MBDA. An environmentally conscious anchor tenant is also being considered to share the extra space.

Two large halls that were once used to house the off-duty coaches will be restored to their original design before modern amenities are added. These halls will be utilised for local conferences, exhibitions and workshops. A restaurant and a catering school are also expected to be added to the finished building.

The exterior of the building, particularly on the Baakens Street and Lower Valley Road side, will also be restored to its original design while the interior and the side facing the Baakens River will don a more contemporary look with spaces used to optimum effect and enhanced with steel and glass.

“Not only will the building be considered historically but it will have a green footprint too.  We will be incorporating a number of interesting and unique features to ensure that this building is aesthetically and functionally beneficial to its environment,” said Sapere.

As part of Phase 2, pedestrian and cycle paths will be added that will link the Tramways Building to Bridge Street as well as to the north bank of the Baakens River. Sapere explained that the MBDA expects this project, together with the private sector restoration of No.1 Bridge Street, to begin the transformation of the whole of the lower Baakens Valley.

“One of the MBDA’s primary objectives is to bring people to the urban and historical heart of the city. We do this by emphasising the historical significance of an area, creating art, culture and leisure focal points and by improving the infrastructure.

“By restoring the old Tramways Building, we are achieving all of these points.Past experience has shown that once we have uplifted an area, private sector investment soon follows,” added Sapere.