When Mamata Banerjee envisaged Kolkata to be like London, she probably had in mind the dotted expanse of the Victorian style architecture that defines the city’s central business district, or the Dalhousie Square area.
More than hundred years after the British shunned Kolkata as its capital, Dalhousie Square stands as the palimpsest of the city’s checkered past. Notably, the area developed as a central business district (CBD) due to its proximity to Asia’s largest wholesale market, Burra Bazar. However, with the manufacturing sector of Bengal witnessing a marked decline over the last few years, this palatial office space of Kolkata is finding few takers.
Recently, Standard Chartered Bank decided to sell its iconic property at 19 Netaji Subhas Road, spread over nearly 100,000 square ft. The bank had inherited the building from the acquisition of ANZ Grindlays’ Middle-East and South Asia operations in 2000.
“The sale of this building is part of our pan-India investment to improve the branch and office environment for our customers and staff, improving efficiency and service levels, replacing older properties where needed and modernising the buildings in our portfolio,” a spokesperson of Standard Chartered. “Standard Chartered remains the largest foreign bank in India, with a network of 100 branches spanning 43 locations. We are strongly committed to investing in and growing our franchise in India, in Kolkata and across the country.”
“The new generation of business houses in Kolkata prefers having offices in Sector V. Not only are the prices affordable, but also, Sector V offers all modern facilities — exactly what an office requires. It might be difficult for Standard Chartered to sell the property in a single chunk. More so, because car parking is a big challenge,” says Jitendra Khaitan, CMD, Pioneer Property Management.
Developers say that the floor price of the property could be close to Rs 10,000-11,000 per square ft. In comparison, office floor prices in the Sector V area is close to Rs 4000-5000 per square ft. This would mean that Standard Chartered could sell some one lakh square ft of space in Kolkata’s prime location for not more than Rs 110 crore. In a city like Mumbai, the price of the same property in a similar location would be three-five times more than that in Kolkata.
Kolkata’s Dalhousie CBD loses charm on falling infrastructure“Dalhousie is no longer considered to be the CBD area in Kolkata. It is losing sheen because of lack of modern facilities. New age start-ups want their offices to be situated in areas like Sector V, which is near the airport,” says Pradip Chopra, a city-based real estate developer.
According to informal estimates, in Sector V alone, about 5,000,000 square ft of office space is available.
“The CBD area in Kolkata is undergoing a shift. There are issues like car parking and traffic in the old CBD area of Dalhousie. Also, the models of businesses have changed,” says Santosh Rungta, former president, Credai India.
Notably, Dalhousie square, spread over two square km, the area, which the World Monument Fund described as one of South Asia’s few surviving colonial centres and also one of the 100 most endangered sites in the world, has close to 55 historic landmarks
The biggest restoration project on Dalhousie Square — the renovation of Writers’ Building at a cost of nearly Rs 200 crore — was taken up by the Trinamool Congress government, which roped in departments of architecture of Bengal Engineering and Science University and Jadavpur University to execute the project. Populated by hawkers and entangled in ownership issues, several other buildings in the area are, however, still crying for attention.