Brave new vision to make Bayworld a tourist magnet

Eco-hotel, water world, planetarium theatre among facilities planned

The new design concept for the redevelop- ment of Bayworld and the greater Happy Valley precinct, which includes old Boet Erasmus stadium
The new design concept for the redevelop- ment of Bayworld and the greater Happy Valley precinct, which includes old Boet Erasmus stadium
Image: Supplied

A concrete framework has been formulated which would see a complete overhaul and redevelopment of beleaguered Bayworld and the Happy Valley precinct after years of decay in what would, the tourism industry believes, be a game changer.

An eco-boutique hotel, water world, various school laboratories and a dome theatre with planetarium technology are just some of the proposed elements of the bold new plan.

The Mandela Bay Development Agency (MBDA), with the municipality and provincial department of sports, recreation, arts and culture, launched the new conceptual framework and vision for the complex last week.

The design plan envisages a rejuvenated multipurpose hitech facility which aims to be a world-class tourist attraction and flagship heritage site aligned with the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

According to the redevelopment plan, site works for the Bayworld revamp are scheduled to start in the first quarter of 2020.

But the formal business plan will be drafted by June 2019 and will include the budget requirements and where the money will come from.

Site works for the Bayworld revamp are scheduled to start in the first quarter of 2020
Site works for the Bayworld revamp are scheduled to start in the first quarter of 2020
Image: Supplied

MBDA spokesperson Luvuyo Bangazi said members of the public would be invited to review the conceptual framework and air their views at the two stakeholder engagement sessions to be held at the Tramways Building on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The new framework, he said, geographically linked Bayworld and the Happy Valley precinct, which included the site of the former Telkom Park stadium. “We have had intense industry stakeholder engagements and we are now opening up to the public, to attend one of two public meetings,” he said.

“While we believe we could have been further in our development process, it is not something worth rushing through.

“There are elements of Bayworld that are functioning and thousands of school pupils keep coming through the facility every year.

“It is a hub of many activities, but it is not optimally used.”

In 2016, the province and the municipality signed a cooperative agreement which gave the city the task to look at the redevelopment of Bayworld and the Happy Valley precinct collectively.

The city delegated the MBDA to undertake the process.

According to Bangazi, the new conceptual framework aims to digitise interactions at Bayworld and offer virtual experiences for visitors.

Some of the other proposed elements include:

● A museum world, where visitors can interact with the existing artefact collection in an upgraded and participatory way;

● A water world with water slides and swimming pools, where visitors can learn about currents and learn to swim;

● The school facility will host the research, innovation, incubation and exploring and learning laboratories;

● A conservation world, which includes a new aquarium, sanctuary and rehabilitation hospital;

● The circa – a home of hologram circus performances of virtual animals and a multipurpose events space;

● A seaside world with rock pool exploration and possible dolphin rehabilitation pools; and

● The Gateway to the Eastern Cape, which will include an adventure land, butterfly park, zipline facility and linkages to other tourist attractions in the province such as the Addo Elephant National Park and Shamwari Game Reserve.

Bayworld Museum director Luvuyo Mini – who is part of the project steering committee – said he hoped the development process would go according to plan to rebuild the institution into an economic and education hub for the region.

He said he believed the project had the full backing of the provincial government as Bayworld had been included in premier Phumulo Masualle’s state of the province address in February.

“This is a very important institution for this community and the province,” Mini said.

“We are making progress and we so wish that everything goes as it should and according to plan.”

Bangazi said the redevelopment project had already gained interest from foreign investors – some of whom were expatriates from the city.

“The next few weeks will determine where we go from here, depending on what we receive as feedback from the public and other stakeholders.

“We want to do this in a very collaborative and transparent process,” he said.

Tourism expert Shaun van Eck said he had attended one of the engagement sessions and had been highly impressed that the redevelopment process was such a collaborative effort.

He said tourists’ demands had changed radically in recent years, with visitors seeking out unique and memorable experiences exclusive to the location they visited.

The Bayworld and Happy Valley precinct provided a huge opportunity for tourism and could have a similar economic effect for the city that the Boardwalk had when it was first opened in 2001.

“The one thing we are struggling with at the moment is that we have tourist attractions and activities – but none of them really offers a ‘no-where-else-in-the-world’ experience that differentiates us from other places,” Van Eck said.

“I have gathered that this is going to be a partnership between the government and the private sector and this provides an awesome opportunity to establish a model of this nature.

“When the Boardwalk was established, it really fed a lot of other development in the city.

“This, too, is a major project that can have a significant impact on local business.

“We need a strong magnet that gives visitors and tour operators a compelling reason to come to the metro, and this could be it.”

Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism (NMBT) board chair Buli G Ngomane said the redevelopment could be an iconic landmark for the city and, as a result, could be a catalyst for growth in domestic and international tourist numbers.

“The NMBT board has a committee dedicated to attending these engagements and has representation on the Bayworld steering committee as well,” Ngomane said.

“The rejuvenation of Bayworld has been on the cards for over a decade.

“The concept never quite gained as much traction as the current plans on the table.

“The time lapsed may have cost us a competitive edge in our offering as a city.

“This new vision is a bold statement that integrates nature, architecture and technology and will undoubtedly elevate our offering to tourists to another level when it comes to fruition.”

Economic development, agriculture and tourism executive director Anele Qaba said while he had not yet received the proposal document, he would engage with it this week and offer his analysis of the conceptual framework.