Ten years since the project took flight, Roma Park has come in to land. Developed by CPD Properties, what was once farmland in the fast-growing Zambian city of Lusaka is now a ready-to-thrive mixed-use development with services, amenities and heaps of potential. We last spoke to the Roma Park four years ago, and the sale of its lots was already well underway: now, in time for the project’s 10-Year anniversary, the Park has become a living world of its own, and it still has room for growth. Even more excitingly, Zambia itself seems poised for a new life, with a new government introducing incentives and initiatives that could mark a time of exciting growth in the country’s economy and private sector. We spoke with a CPD Properties spokesperson in celebration of both.
Ten years ago, Roma Park was nothing more than an idea. The build’s concept: a development that would provide both commercial and residential investors a space that was well laid out, well designed, well protected, and was conveniently supplied with all of its utility connections. Water, power, sewage – elements that developers must often worry about themselves would instead be taken care of, allowing those who come to Roma Park to focus their efforts of executing their vision.
This foundation provided by Roma Park was a vision within itself. The project was the first Mixed Use development in Zambia, and within it, the Zambian government arranged to trial another initiative as well: Multi Facility Economic Zones. A CPD Properties spokesperson told us more about the conversation: “When we first started Roma Park, we went to the Zambian government and said ‘We want to do this big development, and we want to make it Mixed-Use. Through negotiations, the investment agency for Zambia persuaded us to set aside 25 hectares of land for this new concept that they had been pushing, which was these private MFEZes. They would be kind of like a Free Trade Zone, offering occupants of that area with world class infrastructure, tax exemptions and various other incentives to do business there.”
The idea was a brilliant one – one that could provide a fantastic boost to the Zambian economy and turn this empty 116 hectares lot in Lusaka into an industry hub that would be profitable for all parties, as well as a safe and desirable residential area. The lot, originally a piece of farmland, was placed near established areas of enterprise within Lusaka, itself an extremely fast-growing city. However, even the best-laid plans can meet challenges, and in regards to MFEZ development, CPD hit a major challenge part-way through Roma’s journey.
“So, we made this agreement, and then not long after that, the government was voted out and a new one was voted in. For them, the MFEZ concept wasn’t a priority. They removed the tax incentives, meaning Roma Park was an MFEZ in name, but not in reality.” This could have been a major spanner in the works for Roma Park, which had committed a sizable portion of its land package promised to an initiative that had since, in essence, ceased to exist, yet still existed enough for the agreement to be binding. Regardless, the project moved forwards, achieving excellence in other areas and riding out the storm to see what would become of the MFEZ. With a recent change in government, Roma Park saw a change in fortunes:
“The new government has taken up this concept. They’re extremely pro-business, they like the idea of encouraging investment, and not only have they added a number of incentives to the MFEZ act to encourage export, but they’ve also lowered the threshold for local investment from $250,000 to $50,000. They felt that MFEZes were targeting international investors, but why would you disadvantage local investors who are willing to invest in the same property?” This is fantastic news both for Roma Park and for Zambian business: restoring value to the MFEZ act restored value to an important portion of the Park’s offering, and for Zambians, this massive decrease in minimum investment opens doors that were otherwise closed. “From a tax point of view, Roma Park is now incredibly well-positioned going forwards. This is a clear message from the new government regarding its pro-business attitude.”
CPD’s spokesperson was as excited about this shift in Zambia as they were for Roma Park’s success – the two are intertwined, both regarding MFEZes as in a broader sense, as the healthier an economy Zambia enjoys, the more Roma Park will thrive. Plus, as Zambian residents, the team is passionate out of love for both business and their country: “A lot of things have changed in Zambia. The new election, the new regime, has changed the whole pace of the country. We had a peaceful transition of power, which Zambia seems to do incredibly well, and we’ve experienced a new energy within the country which has translated nicely to all parts of the economy and industry.”
The CPD team shared that they had seen a general uptick in business confidence in the country, which they largely credited to this new government’s measures. It has even created a Green Energy ministry, which, whilst only in its infancy, could lead to exciting change in the future. However, there are other factors also at play. For example, copper, like many metals and minerals, is at an all-time price high at the moment, and this industry accounts for a vast portion of Zambia’s economy. All in all, it is an exciting time to be Zambian.
As the spokesperson put it to us, “Roma Park has definitely ridden the coattails of that”, but this undersells what Roma Park has already achieved by itself. Before this economic boost, the Park had sold 50% of its commercial plots and 100% of its residential lots. These numbers are a clear reflection on the differences between these two markets: when an economy is slower, people are slower to invest in business property, but the housing market keeps moving whatever the weather. The fact that 50% of Roma Park’s commercial side was still sold is also a testament to the quality of what it provides, and, since the change in government, it has seen these sales soar. Amongst the companies who now own commercial property within the site, there are China Civil, one of the biggest construction companies in the world, and MTN, both of whom have their headquarters there.
So, where exactly is Roma Park? Built on what was originally a piece of farmland, ‘Lot 609’, this raw starting point was perfectly situated for both commercial and residential development. As the company told us, “We are quite uniquely placed because we are a commercial park and MFEZ between Lusaka and the airport, so there’s lots of opportunities for import-export business. We’re also so close to town. Lusaka will be the seventh fastest growing city in Africa. Because it’s growing really fast, the infrastructure doesn’t necessarily keep up with the city, which has a number of consequences. The traffic is bad: we’re growing so quick, and the first thing someone buys as a new entrant into the middle class is a car. An advantage that we have is that because we’re close in town, so we’re able to negotiate that traffic, and we’re right in the growth node of arcades, East Park, Manda Hill.” All of this, plus the ease of utility provision, has made the park extremely desirable to developers. Of the sold-out residential plots, 47% have had construction completed, and the gated community has moved from a hypothetical to a buzzing, thriving reality. In 2018, the Park was even awarded Best Residential Development in Africa from the API, the Africa Property Awards.
In terms of job and value creation, the results have been fantastic. When the development was new, the first property sold for $28 per square meter, and now, CPD are selling at $90 per square meter. As for jobs, from formal employment to day work, the construction and overseeing of the project has had a massive impact. Even tangentially, it has affected local businesses selling tiles, cement, even food near to the build site. “There’s a sort of microeconomy that has sprung up around Roma Park. I think there’s a lot to be proud of in that.”
When it started out, the strategy behind Roma Park was simple – here was a land package in the centre of Lusaka, a city that was growing quickly: its value would go up. From there, though, the vision went forth: now, in a city known for urban sprawl, it is an aesthetic, well-planned area with both security and flow. What was really exciting in all this was the way that the governments at the time ended up moving in the same direction as CPD – once someone starts the snowball of development rolling, it keeps on going, bringing both private and public sector with it. “What has been nice to see is that as we, the private sector, made the investment into the services, the government has also come to the party in terms of providing. For example, when we came here, there was no road, and now there’s a four-way highway, and they’ve also invested in an electricity substation just opposite. There’s an unspoken synergy there. We’re just pulling in the same direction. It’s sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy in some ways, because so many people move here: all of a sudden, our agendas align. It’s not a structured cooperation, but it’s been a real success story, and I’m proud to have been part of it.”
Not content to sit around, now that Roma Park has reached its tenth birthday, CPD is already working on its next development project: Lions Hill, a 70-hectare development in New Kasama. Whilst the company is looking at future potential Mixed-Use builds, this project will be entirely residential, due largely to its location. Like Roma Park, it will be fully planned and serviced, with the addition of details such as plenty of open spaces and green parks. “We’re at the planning phase, and we are supposed to be breaking ground at the end of April. It will have 208 residential plots in a gated community: the Lusaka residential market remains pretty buoyant, so I think it will be a really exciting project.” The company is moving forwards with some lessons learnt from its experiences in Roma Park, looking to make Lions Hill even better, and the next development, even better after that. The company and its slate are on the rise, much like Zambia itself. It is a pleasure to be able to celebrate a company’s success along with national success at the same time, and the spokesperson we talked to was keen to drive this point home:
“I do think that Zambia is such an unsold gem. It’s a wonderful place to do business, to live, the people are friendly, and it’s on an upward trajectory. It’s nice to be part of that. It’s so well poised, and I think it’s got a lot to offer.” The same could be said of Roma Park and Zambia both, and we’re thrilled to see that both are doing so well. In time, we hope to check back in on the progress of Lions Hill: in the meantime, it sounds like Lusaka is a potential-filled city to invest in, and Roma Park might still have some space!