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Quite a grand entry

When the ITC Grand Central hotel rose high above the far flatter landscape of Parel in 2005, many expressed their misgivings about the success of a luxury hotel amidst defunct textile mills, reports Mini Pant Zachariah.

mumbai Updated: Nov 29, 2009 01:44 IST
Mini Pant Zachariah

When the ITC Grand Central hotel rose high above the far flatter landscape of Parel in 2005, many expressed their misgivings about the success of a luxury hotel amidst defunct textile mills. The Indian Tobacco Company, now renamed ITC, once ran a successful cigarette factory on the land where the hotel now stands.

Says Zubin Songadwala, general manager of the ITC Central, “In the mid-90s, ITC was toying with the idea of putting up a housing complex here when we hit upon the idea of a hotel. ITC did not have a hotel in the island city and here we had that rare commodity, land, at our disposal. It was too good an opportunity to let go...”

The reasoning was that while the ITC Grand Maratha at Sahar Road serviced the north and suburbs, the ITC Central would cater to south Mumbai. “In fact, given the geography of the area, Parel with its mill lands, was an area which had the most scope for future development,” says Songadwala.

Though the Kalpataru Habitat predated the ITC Central, and many media houses had occupied some premises in Parel in the late 90s, the transformation of the area can be safely attributed to the five-starhotel. Says Songadwala, “Great apartment and residential complexes have come up in Wadala but these addresses have not found a landmark like ITC Central.”

Ask Jeetendra Badle, 25, born and brought up at the Topiwala chawl across the road from ITC. He assists his father Mohan Badle in running his factory a short walk away from his home. “This place has changed as none of us could ever imagine it would. When I was growing up there were mostly middle-class Maharashtrians here. Now you find more Gujaratis and Marwaris here,” says Badle.

With media houses and other businesses opening offices in Parel, the area has got slowly gentrified. Many of the original inhabitants who had lost their jobs with the shutting down of the textile mills, sold their dwellings and either moved back to their villages or into the far away suburbs. “A 180 sq ft area fetched Rs 25 lakh. For many house owners who hadlost their jobs at the defunct mills, this seemed as a viable option,” says Badle.

Mills closed down, but fashion and apparel companies have opened their factory outlets here. The Elphinstone Road station on the Western route and Parel and Dadar on the Central route make the area easily accessible.

Arvind Shah who has been selling VIP luggage here since 2005 says, “We get customers from Borivli as also from Gamdevi.” Kripal Singh, who works at a garment store here agrees, “This is a favourite area for shopping for most Mumbaikars as they get quality goods at competitive prices. It is so centrally located that both people from western and eastern suburbs come here.”

But Parel is not only about business and commerce. It houses the famous Tata Memorial Cancer Hospital, Wadia Children’s Hospital and the KEM hospital as also the Haffkine Institute. Parel also has the century-old animal hospital which has some of the best facilities for animals. Four years ago, when ITC Central opened, it looked completely out of place in Parel. But now with the Ashoka Towers, Ashoka Garden and the Peninsula Centre on the adjoining S S Rao Road for company, and the flyover on the Ambedkar Road fast taking shape, this part of Parel promises to be a place that will soon change dramatically. As of now, for someone like Latika Kumar, a resident of Kalpataru Habitat, life’s many conveniences in a metro — like home-delivery from a decent eatery or activities for her two growing sons – are not easy to come by in Parel. “For a good eating out place, we still have to drive out to Bandra, or town, or Lower Parel or Worli. True that the ITC Central is next door but one cannot dine there every time,” she says.

As one stands on the Ambedkar Road across the ITC Central, one can see the chawls on the right where the old posters of Ganesh mandals still wish the residents happiness and prosperity. Children play cricket in the long corridors of these chawls. The worn out façade of the India United Mill with banyan shoots peeping from the crevices is a reminder of the textile mills that once flourished here. The Ambedkar Road that connects Dadar to Fountain is a traffic nightmare but a flyover under construction will ease that chaos soon.

A weekly column that looks at how a pioneering or iconic structure has changed the face of a locality