Heading into the new century

ALBERTON – Alberton has most definitely outgrown its children shoes and can compete with any other town with a vibrant commercial centre, convenient malls, neat streets and an award-winning boulevard.

But development also had a sad impact, and many of the landmarks from yesteryear had to make way for new things – things and plans which sometimes never materialised.

Lake development

In the late 80s there was much talk about the Lake Development (The Cascades) on the spruit across from where original entrance to Alberton City, the Post Office and Alberton municipal offices are situated. On the other side of the spruit lived a small community and the council started negotiations to buy their properties, have it demolished to make way for the new development, which would have included state-of-the art office blocks and more shopping outlets.

There is a story that it took a lot of negotiations to convince one of the elderly ladies living there to sell her property off to the council. It is being told that she was adamant that she is not going anywhere – not with the library, municipal offices and a shopping centre within walking distance from her front door.

Today the land still lays barren and are now used by taxis and an extension of the taxi rank situated in Du Plessis Street – the centre never saw the light of day.

Ring roads

The original CBD moved from Old Alberton (Van Riebeeck Avenue) and settled around Alberton City. The Ring Roads encompasses the heart of Alberton. With a well established industrial area, the attractions of the Boulevard, its malls and other business centres, easy access from regional roads and freeways, Alberton attracted a large volume of through-traffic. The Ring Roads was a superb solution to eliminate congestion through the centre of town.

Civic centre

In the 90’s the new civic centre was described as the biggest sub-divisible complex on the Witwatersrand with seating for up to 2 500 people. It boasts two stages with theatre facilities, exhibition areas, press facilities, modern bars and kitchens and a public library. The library provided a host of community-based courses and activities including a “home-boud” service for those who have no mobility.

Way back then the library also hosted the Kaya Festival during the winter school holidays where children where being kept busy by introducing them to all sorts of different art forms in which they could actively take part in.

Gone also are the years where the Alberton Town Council hosted the Mardi Gras with entertainment for young and old, street parties with music and floats parading through the streets, an opportunity for business to exhibit and promote themselves and then, ending days of festivities with a spectacular laser and fireworks show.

New Market Racecourse

Alberton used to be host to a proud racing fraternity with New Market Racecourse situated across the New Market Small Holdings and a tunnel underneath Old Heidelberg Road, joining the two entities and giving safe passage for horses to the course.

In its heyday, this was a racing hub, which later introduced the ever so popular night racing events in the late 90’s. The opening race drew a crowd of more than 7 000 people and a record R8 million was wagered on the nine-race programme. These midweek night races became so popular that the only day races was in June, when the evening air was just too cold for comfort.

The entire setup included gourmet restaurants, private function rooms – it even provided for a romantic dinner for two in the restaurants.

Although the night racing events was more expensive to host, the attendance figures being between 80 and 95 per cent higher over the 32 meeting a year, entrance fees did not increase, proving it a most profitable venture for the Rand Sporting Club.

But all good things come to an end. The Racing Association then decided that only a certain number of race courses will be allowed on the Highveld. It was decided that due to popular night racing New Market will be kept open. After this, the umbrella company, Phumelala which owns five racecourses (Durban, PE, Cape Town, Golden Fields and Vereeniging and Turffontein in Johannesburg), decided that New Market must close down, considering the course in Turffontein to be bigger and better. This decision also brought the closure of Gosforth Park just before the closure of New Market.

Since then Phumelela re-branded in August this year and will now be called Racing. It’s a Rush.

The New Market land was used to host the ever popular Coke Fest, bringing international artists to South Africa for a year or two, then the private owner announced a development of another shopping centre including housing in this village type set-up. The demolishing of the once stately buildings playing host to many a party disappeared in dust.

Alrode and Alrode South

Alrode is seen as the dominant wealth generator of Alberton. Together with Alrode South and some areas in Alberton North, the industrial area encompassed 890 hectares in the 90’s of which half was still available for development in the mid 90’s.

At that time the industrial sector comprised some 660 firms employing more than 48 000 people. Industries range from paper and paper products, furniture and transport equipment to plastic products and manufacturing was dominated by chemical, petroleum and coal products, beverages and metal products. Strange that the once dry town is now host to one of the largest breweries in South Africa.

In the early 90’s a new industrial township, Arton, was envisaged to provide land for hi-tech industries and so enhance Alberton’s potential or the full range of industrial activities. Since the area had all the advantages of Alrode, its success was almost guaranteed.

And yet, despite many changes, an abundance of development and the ever moving forward motion of the town, Alberton has maintained a sense of community — almost like family.

*Some of the information was taken from An Alberton Album, published by the Alberton Town Council 1997

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