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High street, buy street

As High Street Phoenix prepares for its next consumer magnet, a look at how it all started. Mini Pant Zachariah gives details.

india Updated: Aug 30, 2009 00:32 IST
Mini Pant Zachariah

In 2001, when Big Bazaar, India’s first hyper mart, opened in what was then called the Phoenix Mill compound, one structure stood out — the chimney of the 104-year-old textile mill.

The chimney has now been dwarfed by the other structures that have come up since — the PVR multiplex, the Grand Galleria and its enormous parking lot, and now, the Palladium, the shopping complex with high-end stores that is scheduled to open in September. The Palladium will spread from the ground to the third level of a 5-star business and leisure hotel, the Shangri-La.

L’Oreal Paris’ first standalone store, Tissot, Minawala and Triumph are already there. In the offing are Zara, Damiani, Daniel Swarovski, Sisley, Ed Hardy & Christian Audiger, Movenpick, TGIF, Top Shop, Rosenthal, The Collective and more. It will also have a bookstore, Landmark, that had somehow been left out in its earlier stages of evolution of High Street Phoenix.

It was not always so. In 1986, when Ruia set up the Phoenix Centre here with 350,000 sq ft commercial space, it had few takers. Recalls Ruia, “Parel still had many functioning mills and selling space was a huge challenge. We had to literally woo advertising agencies like Trikaya Grey and Lintas and give them space almost for free to convince them to relocate.”

Restaurateur A D Singh set up The Bowling Company here in 1999 when Phoenix was still better known as a mill. Says Singh, “The Ruias were looking to develop the space in different directions. The land was a sizeable area, well located and at a reasonably good real estate cost. So I conceived of an entertainment and lifestyle product to anchor future development here.”

The Peninsula Corporate Park was the first major commercial complex to come up in the vicinity. Banks, media houses and financial institutions followed, pushing the commercial rate of property in Lower Parel upwards of Rs 20,000 per sq ft. “And nobody needs to call it Upper Worli any more. Lower Parel is an address now,” says Ruia.

Residential property rates haven’t lagged behind. In 2002, the going rate for a flat in the Neelganga society behind the now-famous Peninsula Corporate Park was Rs 3,500 per sq ft. The figure is around Rs 18,000 per sq ft today.

“There are more power cranes working in this area than anywhere else in Mumbai. There was no construction in SoBo (South Bombay); now there are some 50 buildings under construction in South and Central Bombay. This area is getting gentrified,” says Ruia.

Next to High Street Phoenix is the Raghuvanshi Mill compound with lifestyle stores like K Lifestyle and Good Earth. And across the road, where the gawking mill workers once watched the transformation of their mill land less than eight years ago, there stands a high-end furniture and bath fixtures showroom.

Under the flyover, one can still meet the mill hands who have spent a lifetime here. Like Gopal Tondwalkar, 89, who once worked at the Phoenix Mill and now stays across the road in Tapovan, a redeveloped chawl. “I’ve developed asthma because of the traffic outside my house. There are vehicles through the day and night,” he says, between bouts of coughing.

But the transformation of this erstwhile mill district into an office and commercial hub has had its positive fallout for people like Ravi Nadar who runs a successful dosa counter on the street for the many office goers who now fill the place.

So how does AD Singh, who bet on this place a decade ago, see it today? “I think it’s nice for the consumer to have destinations like this, he says, “but personally I feel it’s come up a bit piecemeal. With a clearer master plan in 1999, it could have been truly international.”

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