About ten years ago, the City of Kigali and its stakeholders made a strategic decision that many at the time thought was rather far fetched.
The decision was to expropriate hundreds of households that lived in a rundown, poorly planned neighbourhood that was contemptuously referred to as 'I Kiyovu cy'Abakene', or the Kiyovu part of the underprivileged.
In subsequent expropriation, owners of the structures were given new housing units in a new and well planned neighbourhood in Batsinda in Gasabo District, while some chose to be compensated with money to buy new homes elsewhere.
Located on the other side of the road from the leafy suburb of Upper Kiyovu, this neighbourhood is at the heart of Kigali's Central Business District - and just a few hundred metres away from the bustling downtown Kigali.
It stretches from Sopetrad to Peage, down to the Poids Lourds road.
In the city master plan, Lower Kiyovu area is earmarked as Central Business District One (CBD 1), an envisaged multipurpose business hub that will accommodate offices, retail business, offices, hotels, entertainment facilities like cinemas, and apartments, among others.
The area will also accommodate public facilities like schools, health centres, among others.
According to Rwanda Social Security Board (RSSB), which met the expropriation cost and owns the 19-hectare piece of prime land in the area, all the plots in the area have been sold out. Basic infrastructure has been put in place and investors have started developing their plots.
"All plots in the CBD1 have been sold off and developers are in the process of developing their plots while others are processing necessary paperwork to start construction soon," says Moses Kazora, the communications director at RSSB.
Land in this area was initially costing $175 per square metre, but after government subsdised the cost of the different infrastructure, prices were revised down to $100.
With ten years gone and just a couple of buildings already up, some have argued that the decision to expropriate the former residents of the Lower Kiyovu area was probably premature.
But some experts in real estate development and industry watchers have a different view.
"This area is in a C3 (city level commercial zoning) meaning the buildings here are supposed to be seven storey and above. This calls for thorough planning," says Paul Rwigamba, a property expert from Century Real Estates, a local firm.
The same sentiment was echoed by Kazora and officials at the City of Kigali who say there was need to lay out properly planned infrastructure before the investors could come in.
Already, the area has water, a centralised sewerage system, electricity, paved roads, fibre optic backbone, among others.
For such projects, according to Rwigamba, one needs not just time to raise the necessary funding to undertake them, but also proper planning and wide consultations on their viability.
So far, four plots are fully developed. These include; Nyarugenge Pension Plaza (the complex that hosts the Ministries of Youth, ICT, Environment and Land, and Forestry; Office of Government Spokesperson, among others), RSSB Twin Towers; and the complex that hosts Deloitte firm.
Speaking to The New Times, Marie Solange Muhirwa, the acting director of Kigali Construction One-Stop Centre at the City of Kigali, outlined some of the other projects that are already underway.
"University of Kigali, Onomo Hotel Rwanda (owned by French investors), and Rwanda Utilities and Regulatory Authority are some of the projects that have already broken ground on their sites. Once they are complete, they will help transform the face of Kiyovu area," she said.
Works on Onomo Hotel, which is adorned with the traditional Imigongo patterns, are almost complete.
The place will have a modern clinic and public parks. Other planned properties in the area include the Bamboo Commercial Building, owned by the Chinese proprietors of T2000, and the headquarters of the Energy Utility Corporation Limited (EUCL).
"You wouldn't invite an investor to buy land from "Kiyovu cy'Abakene" as it was then. But look at the area now, it is completely different," Muhirwa noted.
Advice to investors
Jean Marie Nyirimihigo, a local businessman, acquired about 7000 square metres in CBD1 and is now putting up a multipurpose commercial building in the area under his investment brand BMC Plaza.
Nyirimihigo is the investor behind Biomedical Centre (BMC), a private clinic located in downtown Kigali.
He says the future prospects of the area lured him to buy a plot of land there and compared the emerging neighbourhood to Nairobi's high-end commercial suburb of Upper Hill.
"CBD1 has great potential. Five years from now it will be our own version of Upper Hill in Nairobi," Nyirimihigo said.
Upper Hill is a business district in the Kenyan capital where several multinational corporations have their national and regional headquarters.
BMC clinic will occupy part of its envisaged complex while the rest will be let out.
The building will be completed in the next two years.
Asked about what he would advise investors like Nyirimihigo who plan to let out space on their buildings, Rwigamba said investors should be strategic in the way they plan for their properties.
"For instance, if I was thinking of putting up a property for office space, I would look into the condo office model. There are many organisations out here that would like to own their own office but cannot afford the whole building," said Rwigamba.
He added that the area also needs a modern shopping mall.
"Clientele would not be a question because the place will have many offices and it would not make sense for people to go all the way to downtown to buy groceries and other necessities," he said.