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BANGALORE - The infotainment city

By Aparna Datta

Over the past decade, Bangalore has acquired a distinct position as IT capital, and the visible landmarks by way of real estate largely define the new character of the city. The urban landscape is changing rapidly, with the south-east quadrant of Bangalore, comprising Whitefield, Sarjapur Ring Road and Koramangala, providing the momentum. There are opportunities galore for entrepreneurs – the symbiotic existence of real estate developers and business people has seen Bangalore develop into one of Asia’s fastest growing cities.

The decade of the 1990s had been a roller-coaster ride for developers – after years of reasonably steady growth, the market reached dizzying heights in the mid-nineties and then came crashing down in 1997-98. In retrospect, the market was indeed overheated, and savvier players now admit that a correction was badly needed, and that the current situation is far more realistic. To be sure, a number of people got hurt, however, in the process, the market has matured, and genuine customers are now realizing more value in their transactions.

For one thing speculative activity, which characterized the so-called boom phase, has virtually ended. Developers acknowledge that most buyers today – be they institutions or individuals – are end-users, and servicing these customers leads to a mutually satisfying relationship. This has also raised the bar in terms of professionalism, since buyers can afford to be more particular, and developers have accordingly upgraded their service standards.

Boom in IT sector drives growth
The key driver of the recovery has been the sustained demand from the Information Technology (IT) sector. Since 1998, Bangalore has been on a new trajectory. If there’s one event that marked the shift, it has got to be the ‘Bangalore’ – the mega-show mounted by the Government of Karnataka in November 1998 that turned the tide and put Karnataka firmly on the growth track. Since that milestone event, which is now an annual show, there is no doubt as to Bangalore’s position as the IT – nay intellectual - capital of India, as some people would fondly have it.

The IT sector comprises not only software and hardware, but also a whole range of IT-enabled services such as call-centres, medical transcription and back-end operations for insurance firms. And today, the buzz-word is BPO, short for Business Process Outsourcing, for which Bangalore is rapidly becoming a global hub. Over the past four years, many Indian companies have started up, many others have expanded their businesses, and multinational corporations have increased their presence manifold. U.S. companies continue to move some of their operations to India to take advantage of lower costs. Human resources being a key element, the hiring and housing of people, both at their workplaces and homes, take on critical proportions; creating spaces, for people to live and work in, becomes infrastructure development that is essential for growth.

New dimensions in real estate
Over the last five years, the market has seen qualitative shifts in real estate development, with promoters increasingly enamoured with the opportunities offered by the IT sector. Ten years ago, “Group Housing” used to be the ‘in’ thing; today the buzz is “Software Park maadi”. Design concepts have evolved to international standards and institutional clients now vie with each other to create establishments that reflect their image and stock valuations! The trend today is to set up campus-style establishments, owned outright, with a distinctive corporate stamp, rather than operate in leased spaces in commercial complexes. Asset creation has taken on new meaning – Spartan, functional office blocks are giving way to ‘intelligent’ buildings and landscaped exteriors worthy of a world-class business center, for indeed, Bangalore ranks amongst the top ten IT centers of the world. In recent years, the International Tech Park at Whitefield, the Infosys City in Electronics City and the Wipro corporate office on Sarjapur Road – to name just a few projects - have become distinctive additions to the urban landscape of Bangalore, such that Sri Atal Behari Vajpayee, Hon’ble Prime Minister of India, during a visit to Infosys, Bangalore in January 2001, said “…I must add here that, previously, foreign dignitaries were never satisfied without a visit to the Taj Mahal. Now they are not satisfied without visiting a wonder of modern India – namely, the IT Centres in Bangalore…”

Prime areas of development
The locations of these new ‘temples of modern India’ give a clue to the emerging direction and concentration of real estate development in Bangalore. Most developers aver that the ‘IT corridor’ starting in Whitefield, arcing through the Koramangala – Sarjapur Road area, into the Hosur Road/Electronics City – Bannerghatta area, is where the maximum development is taking place.

The action on the corporate front, however, belies the potential for retail housing for individual home-owners. Much of the new wealth that the IT sector has created is also flowing into property, and developers insist that demand remains strong for apartment ownership. This certainly gladdens the heart of property developers who remain committed to creating homes for individual buyers as they believe that this is the route to a long-term customer relationship.

Reputed builders create quality housing stock
Over the last decade, some developers have emerged as front-runners in the real estate market in Bangalore. Much like the IT superstars, these builders too have created landmark properties with a distinctive stamp, and may also be credited with raising the profile of Bangalore in terms of housing. Prominent among these are the Prestige Group, Puravankara Projects, Rahejas, Brigade Group, Embassy, Gopalan Enterprises, India Builders Corporation, Shobha Developers, to name just a few. These builders have contributed significantly to Bangalore’s reputation for quality construction, which in fact scores higher than that found in the cities in the North and West of India.

Apart from the architectural profiles, many developers have consistently made innovations, improving the standard features in each project, and also display a sense of mission and values. Says Mr Rezwan Razack, Managing Director of the Prestige Group, “We have a strong commitment to preserving the heritage of Bangalore”.

Developers today also contribute to the upgradation of infrastructure in the surrounding area. The section of Hosur Road near the Prestige Acropolis in Koramangala has a surface that is vastly superior compared to adjacent sections; indeed, Prestige were also instrumental in getting the bridge near Mico widened.

Most quality builders today subscribe to CRISIL ratings, and this factor is increasingly beginning to distinguish the big players from the small. With the earthquake in Gujarat having raised awareness on quake-proof structures, and with Bangalore too having suffered a mild tremor as an after-shock, people having been questioning the safety of high-rise buildings. On which Mr Ravi Puravankara, Chairman of Puravankara Projects Ltd., had this comment: “Buildings don’t kill people – bad construction does”.
Bangalore is in the low-risk seismic category; even so, most quality builders confidently state that their projects incorporate the necessary reinforcements for safe structures.

Security also ranks high on the potential home-owners check-list. Puravankara has a large NRI clientele and recognizing the need to “lock up and go” now incorporates superior safety and security systems in all their projects, including the upcoming Purva Fairmont in HSR Layout and Purva Parkridge on the Ring Road near Marathahalli.

Lung space is an important criterion and many high-rise residential buildings leave a large amount of open space. Purva Riviera, coming up on Airport-Whitefield Road, the Prestige projects such as Langleigh, and the planned Ozone and Palms in Whitefield, and the Shobha Developers complexes in south suburban Bangalore, have created large recreation spaces for all age groups, which prove to be very attractive for families. All quality residential complexes, of course, have club-houses and party rooms, not to mention swimming pools and other sports facilities. Environment-friendly systems for rainwater-recharging and waste disposal are increasingly finding a place in the amenities.

New specs for new customers
Over the years, the customer profile for retail housing has changed dramatically. During the 1980s, the prospective buyer would have been in his fifties. Today, 23-year- old women professionals are in the market! Evidently, the IT boom has created a new segment of customers, who look for different features in the homes they plan to purchase. For this customer, connectivity and the back-up infrastructure to enable SOHO (small office home office) enterprises are important aspects and this means that telephone and internet facilities are fast becoming standard fixtures.

Evidence of new equations in the real estate sector also comes from the ease in which new players such as Richard Ellis, Jones Lang LaSalle and other property consultants have integrated into the market during the last five years. Catering to corporate clients and high net-worth individuals who look at investment opportunities in real estate, these multinational firms have also contributed to greater sophistication and professionalism in the marketplace. From advisory services in investment property acquisitions and dispositions to facilities management, these firms have brought in internationally-accepted practices which have helped many MNCs decide on Bangalore as a base for their operations.

New facilities for new lifestyles
Apart from technology businesses, the services and entertainment sectors are also developing rapidly. There is now a greater thrust towards developing world-class properties. The Innovative Multiplex on the Outer Ring Road near the Marathahalli junction and the Kingfisher Speed Zone on Whitefield Road, Mahadevpura are big attractions on weekends.

The city is currently seeing something of a retail boom. While Foodworld supermarkets have kept pace with the expansion of the city over the last five years, a number of other retailers, such as Fabmall and Sunday to Monday in Koramangala, have opened up as well.

The most recent trend, of course, is mall mania! The Forum Mall on Hosur Road is the city’s latest landmark, housing some of the world’s best-known brands, along with state-of-the art parking facilities, with an 11-screen multiplex due soon.

If the first phase of Bangalore’s development came with the PSU colonies in the north, the most recent phase is the ‘new economy’ infrastructure in the south. Living and working within a particular area has its own advantages, and new Bangalore offers all that, and more.

© Aparna Datta, 2004



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