For years, it was a rather sedate stretch though, on the face of it, it had a lot going for it. There were blocks on blocks of office buildings of course, the Planetarium and Nehru Centre, quite a few restaurants, the National Sports Club of India (NSCI) and the very exclusive Mahalaxmi race course, with the Haji Ali dargah sitting picturesquely in the distance.
But somehow, there was never a buzz about the place (unless you counted the thirsty crowds outside the Haji Ali Juice Centre).
Today, that stretch of Dr Annie Besant Road from Worli Naka to Haji Ali not only has a buzz 24/7 but has glammed up too. Enthusiastic shoppers now descend by the thousands on the Atria mall, the well-heeled among them heading to the Rolls Royce showroom or perhaps the Jaguar one across the road in Ceejay house.
And, ever since July 1 this year, the Bandra-Worli sealink has added its bit to the buzz, with for commuters from Bandra and the suburbs beyond, Worli just a short 10-minute drive from the Mahim Causeway.
All roads lead to Worli
The resultant traffic here has worsened but that has not come in the way of making this place a sought-after commercial destination. The area is already commanding a commercial rental of up to Rs 600 per sq ft where Nariman Point commands Rs 300 to Rs 400 per sq ft, he says.
Says Chetan Shah, one of the directors of Atria Mall, “Property rates have already seen an 18 to 20 per cent rise since the opening of the sealink. Residential properties, especially on the seafront, are going for Rs 40,000 per sq ft.
The biggest landmark on this road was once the complex that housed the Nehru Centre and Nehru Planetarium, that fired the imagination of generations of children before information about galaxies was available just a click away of the computer remote.
Even the once staid-looking NSCI stadium, that was famed for its wrestling and cycling events, is being transformed into a multi-purpose indoor stadium of international standards.
Sonali Chandiramani, chief manager with Siemens, who has spent many years of her childhood on the Worli seafront, says. “Worli Seaface was a secluded area for quiet walks before the sealink came up. The noise levels have gone up because of the traffic and the skyline has changed beyond recognition with so many new residential and commercial towers in the vicinity.”
She recalls with some fondness the Satyam Sachinam Sundaram cinema where she watched movies with friends till as late as 1998. It closed down for renovation but never reopened.
Now the closest screen is at High Street Phoenix. “Many beautiful bungalows along the seafront have also disappeared and the small buildings with middle-class homes have turned into high rise buildings,” she says.
Uravashi Mody who runs Eco Corner, a shop selling ‘green’ products in Atria Mall remembers: “Three decades ago, South Mumbai was restricted to the area between Colaba and Malabar Hill but it has now extended up to Worli.”
She has been working in Worli for over three years now and says the traffic has become so chaotic that it sometimes takes her 90 minutes to get to her residence in Nepean Sea Road from Atria Mall.
When Atria Mall opened in 2006, it was the only mall with a clutch of high-end brands like Rolls Royce, Mango, Nine West and La Senza. But despite the initial buzz, the footfalls never really translated into sales, according to people who own shops here. Shah of Atria denies that, however. “The average ticket size (amount spent by a shopper per visit) in other malls is Rs 800, but in Atria Mall it is Rs 3,000. The kind of clientele that walks in here spends more,” he argues.
And now that the sealink has brought the Bandra shopper closer to Atria Mall, he says, “There is a 15 to 20 per cent increase in shoppers.” He adds that, in the next three months, Atria Mall will reinvent itself.
It’s a sea change he’s talking about.