The thing in the north, Bengaluru’s new hub
In a city that is bursting at the seams, north Bengaluru is rapidly becoming the new go-to destination. Is it sustainable?
Bengaluru: On a Saturday evening in October, over 15,000 people thronged Ozone Urbana, a 200-acre township that had thrown open a portion of its sprawling grounds to host Bryan Adams’ concert in Bengaluru.
Tucked in a northern pocket of the city, the concert venue is around 30km from Palace Grounds—the erstwhile social heart of the city, which has, in the past, hosted everything from international rock concerts to mining baron Janardhan Reddy’s daughter’s multi-crore wedding. The shift towards the north was far from banal. In a city that is known for its keen interest in music, concert venues convey important cues.
The Canadian singer, who was on a hurricane five-city tour of India, flew in to Bengaluru in the afternoon after his Mumbai concert; drove down to the venue from the hotel, near the airport; and left for his next concert in Gurugram the following day. Effectively, Adams didn’t even venture into the main city, and thus, cleanly evaded the traffic snarls that Bengaluru has become notorious for. A.R.Rahman would use the same lifehack when he goes to the same venue for his upcoming concert on 22 December.
“Even five years back, I would have hesitated to drive down to Devanahalli for a concert,” says Sudhir Rao, a resident of Koramangala, Bengaluru’s original start-up district which is about 38 km, or an hour’s drive on a good day, from Ozone Urbana. “Apart from the airport, there was honestly no reason to drive to the north of the city. We would mostly see just barren land other than a few housing projects. But the area has visibly changed now and there’s a certain buzz,” he adds.
The Bengaluru North parliamentary constituency is spread across 746 sq km, with its nodal centre being the Kempegowda International Airport (KIA), named after the founder of the city, which opened a decade ago near the village of Devanahalli. Halli, in Kannada, means village and Devanahalli and its surrounding areas were just that: a cluster of villages. KIA was primarily set up as an alternative to the increasingly congested HAL Airport in the city centre. For Bengalureans, the new airport was a faraway realm that had little daily relevance, unless travel was on the calendar. But all that is changing, and fast.
Srinivas Gopalan, CEO, Ozone Group, says that with air passenger volumes growing, the airport itself has been a major driver and currently houses around 70 different companies. “It is a sunrise place. Property prices are still reasonable for a 4000-4500 sq. ft. space. The development took time, but now, it has really picked up momentum,” he said.
“We started selling homes at Urbana in 2011, and today, around 1,200 people are living there. There are 500 families in senior living homes. There’s a National Public School within the community... it’s all finally coming together,” Gopalan said.
The 29-km Metro rail line from Nagawara to KIA has been sanctioned, and 120,000 passengers are projected to shuttle to the city’s edge every day. Offices and malls are also finally opening—from futuristic Amazon Echo-integrated budget homes for millennials to luxury and senior living homes, the area is making the right noises.
The roads are good, and commuters can zip from Hebbal, considered as the gateway to North Bengaluru, to the airport— covering a distance of 25 km—in less than 30 minutes on the elevated expressway. The stretch between Hebbal and Devanahalli also has some of the city’s best schools, from Vidyaniketan School in Hebbal to Mallya Aditi International School and Vidyashilp Academy in Yelahanka, making it a thriving education belt.
Given the impetus behind the ongoing rapid infrastructure upgrade, 6-8 million sq. ft. of office space is expected to become functional by 2021. Embassy Group opened a by-invitation private luxury club BLVD this year and has over 300 members already. The city’s largest brewpub, Byg Brewski Brewing Co, that opened on Hennur Road in June, has been a major draw.
Ian Dubier, general manager, Taj Bangalore, which opened three years ago right next to the airport, said: “Our client profile includes corporates on short visits, leisure guests who do the entire south tour from here, and the MICE segment (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions), who use our venue for conclaves. We also have long staying guests who work in the vicinity. This has resulted in strong occupancies upward of 70%.” The hotel is in the process of adding another 220 keys, slated to be functional by 2020, making it one of the largest hotels in the city, with 374 keys.
Due to its proximity to the airport, many leadership and board meetings are conducted at the hotel, since it saves time, Dubier said, adding that for large conference groups, it makes a lot more business sense to save on logistics and the cost of travel into the city.
As a metropolis, Bengaluru has many challenges—the foaming lakes and the crippling groundwater crisis, inadequate public transportation, and unabated construction. For the city’s 12 million residents, short bursts of outward expansion have always fuelled growth, with the southern and eastern edges most recently growing into the IT industry’s suburban hubs.
T.V Ramachandra, a professor at the Indian Institute of Science, once famously said that Bengaluru will become unlivable by 2020 because of unplanned urbanisation, depleting green cover, and dying lakes. The city has grown spherically and concentrated development, in some parts, has resulted in multiple pressure points. Whitefield and Outer Ring Road are saturated with IT parks and gated residential communities, turning those neighbourhoods into a commuter’s nightmare. Koramangala, Indiranagar, and HSR Layout are the start-up hubs and there is, of course, the IT nerve centre in the far south—Electronic City.
With the government focusing on multiple infrastructure projects and with its wide roads and expressway, North Bengaluru, beyond Hebbal, is naturally the next growth corridor.
Krishna Byre Gowda, a legislator from Byatarayanapura, which falls under the Bengaluru North parliamentary constituency, says that infrastructure projects like the peripheral ring road (PRR), and others, will be a boon for the city’s northern edges.
“The Metro rail project has also been sanctioned. Earlier water was a big issue, but this is being addressed. The Cauvery water supply has been extended to most parts of the north (under municipal limits). We are pumping treated water into lakes to recharge the groundwater level,” said Byre Gowda, minister for rural development, law and parliamentary affairs.
So, what looked like a futuristic destination when the airport opened a decade back seems like a necessity now. And in the next 2-3 years, it will get even busier. Nearly 1,900 acres of Karnataka Industrial Area Development Board (KIADB) has been earmarked for an aerospace Special Economic Zone (SEZ), a hardware park and an IT park.
In November, power management firm Eaton broke ground at the Aerospace SEZ, near Devanahalli, to build its first aerospace manufacturing facility in India. The facility is to be built over 2.75 acres and will be operational in the second half of 2019. But the roads and water supply are not adequate enough to build a full-fledged urban ecosystem. People do want to shop, eat out, and catch a movie.
Byg Brewski Brewing Co., for instance, on Hennur Road, an alternate road to reach the airport, accommodates 2,200 people at any given time. Managing director Ajay Gowda says that four years after opening its Sarjapur Road outlet, they wanted to bring a bigger, better experience with the new outlet.
“People in Bengaluru are willing to travel 30-45 minutes if you offer them a good experience. Here, we wanted it to be big on experience and give it a townsquare-like feel, with a spacious outdoor area. North Bengaluru has too many reasons going for it to neglect it these days,” Gowda says.
Author Anuja Chauhan lives in a village called Sadahalli, in a house which her family built on a 8,550 sq ft plot, within a township called Swiss Town. “It is clean and green and the air is fresh. One can go cycling and walking at any time of the day. And as we were clear we were building an old-school house that we wanted to become grandparents in, we were really keen on a garden. We could afford a decent sized plot only in this area. The only negatives are the snakes and the sound of planes landing and taking off, but we’ve grown pretty used to that by now,” Chauhan says.
Real estate play
Real estate is always a major lever which draws people into an upcoming area. Greater Noida in the National Capital Region (NCR) and Panvel and New Panvel in Navi Mumbai are both areas which have witnessed a similar property boom, usually with their relatively lower property prices attracting middle-class and first-time homebuyers.
In North Bengaluru, be in Hennur Road or between Hebbal and the airport, while residential development has happened, what was missing was large-scale office space, which is critical. There were no contemporary shopping malls either. Other than the Embassy Manyata Business Park, where over 100,000 people work, there has been sporadic office space development between Hebbal and the airport.
Firms which have showed an interest in locating to North Bengaluru have been from sectors ranging healthcare and pharma, telecom, engineering and manufacturing and core tech, said Ram Chandnani, MD, advisory & transaction services, CBRE South Asia Pvt. Ltd. “New office growth is expected to go to North Bengaluru. With the Metro line being extended, along with the right social infrastructure, it would result in boosting demand for office space,” Chandnani said.
Lease rates are lower, at around ₹65-68 per sq ft in and around Hebbal, and ₹45 per sq ft further towards the airport, compared to ₹80 per sq ft on Outer Ring Road. Co-working start-up WeWork opened its first centre in the city’s north, with 1500 seats, in the RMZ Latitude complex a few months back. There are plans to open another one close-by.
WeWork India head Karan Virwani said the infrastructure is there, the city is moving that side and it’s a growing demand they want to catch on early. The city’s second Phoenix Market City Mall, with a million sq ft of shopping space is coming up in Hebbal.
Uday Bhaskar, regional head, Godrej Properties Ltd, one of the early movers in North Bengaluru, says the area has seen spectacular infrastructure development compared to the rest of the city. “We are also acquiring land in Hennur Road and Thanisandra areas in the north, north-eastern parts because we want to take a position in the entire North Bengaluru region,” Bhaskar said.
As cities evolve and accommodate waves of new entrants, the centre always shifts. Bengaluru’s northern edge is far from the centre yet, but it is certainly vying to be on the list of probables.
Chauhan describes it aptly: “...Yes, the centre of town is far, but as I work from home and travel a lot... It’s actually good to be this close to the airport. Our next door neighbor is a very excellent doctor, so we have that covered too! And once in a while, we do dude up and hit the Bangalore or Catholic Clubs and Safina Plaza and Commercial Street, and these outings seem sweeter for being so much rarer.”
Sharan Poovanna contributed to this story
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