P650 million BIH’s Science Park in limbo

Portia Nkani
Thursday, 03 December 2015
P650 million BIH’s Science Park in limbo

The P650 million iconic Botswana Innovation Hub’s (BIH) science and technology park situated in Block 8 is experiencing setbacks regarding availability of tenants before its full completion. Measuring approximately 23, 000.00 square metres the building, which is meant to attract start-up companies and global multinationals, commenced in August 2014 and is scheduled for completion in July 2016, according to the man at the helm of the BIH, Alan Boshwaen.

Botswana Guardian has gathered that, already tenants who were initially in discussions with the landlord, BIH, have since withdrawn their intentions. Amongst the tenants was the Botswana Police Service’s Forensic Department and the Ministry of Health. According to sources, the police forensic labs were supposed to have been part of the tenants to occupy the building but they have long pulled out. “There was a directive from the Office of the President which instructed them to pull out. Similarly some Ministry of Health laboratories have also decided to pull out. Now the designs are changing every day and at a cost and BIH is in panic as they don’t know who will really occupy the building,” said a source.

It’s said that over three months ago, a meeting was convened at the site and the main contractor and sub-contractors were briefed that the two tenants have since pulled out following the directive from the highest office. According to the source, the client (BIH) represented by Nkagelang Motlhanka and Alan Boshwaen made the announcement. “We have been told to design a white box since they don’t have tenants and too much taxpayers’ has gone down the drain. So much money has been paid during design and redesigning also means more money,” the source complained.

Confirming the reports to this publication, BIH CEO Alan Boshwaen said initial discussions had been held with Ministry of Health and Ministry of Defence Justice and Security (Forensics Department). “However, they withdrew their intention to proceed due to budgetary constraints. We are unaware of a directive from the Office of the President,” he said in response. The Botswana Police spokesperson, Christopher Mbulawa also confirmed that indeed the discussions were held. “BIH approached us to be part of the building at their Science Park. What hindered us was lack of funds. Initially we had always wanted to build forensic science building of our own and the old Police College at the Village was the recommended area. However, plans are underway to start the project,” explained Mbulawa. He also dismissed the suggestion that there was a directive from the OP instructing them to pull out of their intention with the BIH.

Another tenant who pulled out of the talks, MoH, permanent secretary Shenaaz El-Halabi was quick to say, “We have our own facilities that we can use for laboratories” before demanding a questionnaire from this publication. According to Boshwaen, BIH intends to build apex-shared laboratories on a portion of the Icon building under construction for wide use by research, development, and capacity development and commercialisation companies.
As a result, he said, BIH continues to discuss commercial models for laboratory services locally and regionally as a preferred route going forward. “Six tenants have signed irrevocable leases and we are working towards signing more offers before completion of the building,” revealed Boshwaen.

Meanwhile, sources say that the building might end up being a white elephant with no tenants. “When building such a big building which involves lot of money BIH should have ensured they signed 60 percent tenancy before the commissioning of the project. We are designing a white box and when the tenants come later on, more money will be used to turn the building into what tenants want. Someone slept on the job and the BIH is losing and going to lose more money,” said a worried source.
Boshwaen said the building was designed as a core and shell and therefore tenants’ changes are limited only to their own partitioning and installations which do not affect the overall building design or cost.

Tenants pay for their own installations, said Boshwaen. He said, “To date we have 89 registered members including partners who will take up tenancy within the Icon Building. We are targeting these registered members who will form part of the tenants. The company continues an aggressive membership drive in return for incentives such as 15 percent tax and labour dispensation.” The iconic building will house First Steps Venture Centre (FSVC), a technology entrepreneurship development programme which supports entrepreneurship and innovation through technology transfer.

In addition, an area is dedicated for ICT oriented technology companies and support tenants. Confirmed tenancies include Dimension Data, Microsoft Innovation Centre and other international ICT companies offering plug and play offerings. The building will also house offices which will enable hot desking services to clients and partners. Institutions which support innovation such as Council on Health Research for Development (CORHED), an independent international foundation headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland will also be housed in the Icon Building.

The bulk of the building space is designed for shared facilities intended for business networking such as auditoriums, conference facilities, lounges and coffee shops that will be booked on demand. Boshwaen believes that significant progress has been made in securing tenancy and remains confident about the ongoing discussions with potential tenants who are relevant to the intended uses of the building. “BIH continues to market the space aggressively in both local and regional platforms. However, we acknowledge that current market conditions may impact negatively on our lettings,” he concluded.

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