Interview: The man behind Ghana’s first shopping mall
Andrew Asamoah, a former director of the World Health Organisation, founded A&C Development, a real estate company in his home country of Ghana. After initially intending to develop apartments and condos, Asamoah identified a gap in the market and shifted his focus to building Ghana’s first shopping centre. The A&C Mall opened in Accra in 2005. Jeanette Clark speaks to Asamoah about the development of the mall and expansion plans for his company.
In the early 2000s, Andrew Asamoah, his wife Cecilia, and their children left Geneva, Switzerland, where Asamoah was a director with the World Health Organisation. It was the culmination of an successful career at the United Nations, which started when Asamoah was in his early 20s.
Asamoah took early retirement and decided to return home with his family to their native Ghana.
He started an Accra-based commercial property company called A&C Development, named after himself and his wife.
“When I was growing up, my family always rented property, and therefore the wish for owning property became ingrained at a very young age,” says Asamoah. “I built my first house at the age of 26.”
His interest in property only deepened over the years of working for the UN. As he climbed the ranks, he invested in properties across the globe: a house in Geneva, one in London, another in New York. He also bought land in Accra.
“I bought the land where A&C Mall stands today, 10 years before I returned to Ghana,” he says.
After his return, Asamoah set his sights on building apartments and condos for sale, while also holding onto some as investment properties. His land was located in the heart of a large, upscale residential community in the East Legon area of Accra.
However, upon comparing Accra’s offerings to those of other African cities and Geneva, Asamoah recognised a significant gap in the property market: no malls had been built yet.
With his business plan adapted and some start-up capital taken from his own savings and investments, he approached the banks. “I thought that it would be an easy sell,” he says. “It was not; as this would be the first mall in Ghana, the banks were sceptical.”
The banks argued that Ghana’s thriving traditional marketplace culture would not accept a mall, and the venture may fail. Asamoah understood that he would need to find funding elsewhere and therefore made the difficult decision to sell off his properties in Geneva, London and New York to fund the first phase of A&C Mall himself.
The planning and construction of phase one commenced, but the company faced another challenge: it still needed an anchor tenant. Asamoah spoke to the larger local supermarkets but was met with scepticism once again. A trip to South Africa followed.
“I went to meet with South African retailer SPAR. They directed me to their Zimbabwe office, which at the time was responsible for development and expansion in West Africa,” he says.
As SPAR works on a franchise model, Asamoah was told that he would need to partner with it to manage the supermarket. He had not envisioned retail as part of his second career and declined.
Back home, local retailer MaxMart got wind of the meetings taking place outside Ghana’s borders and approached A&C Development as a potential anchor tenant.
“They took 40% of the available space from phase one. Once their contract was in place, it took us less than six months to get to 100% occupancy,” Asamoah remembers.
Income from lease agreements helped fund the completion of phase one and A&C Mall, the first shopping centre in Ghana, was opened officially in 2005 by the president of the country.
A phased approach
In the years that followed A&C Development used proceeds from the mall and its other properties in Ghana, to complete the second and third phases comprising a fuel station, a fitness centre and Business Centre 1.
In 2012, the International Finance Corporation invested US$4.4 million for the construction of Business Centre II. With this support, the company refurbished and added a children’s playground to the original mall. Upon completion, two floors were taken by the University of Lancaster and the ground floor was rented by two banks and other retailers.
Finally, after 10 years, A&C Mall was completed.
The impact of competition
The privately owned mall has faced increasing competition over the years. Already, during the planning of phase two, a South African developer came in and built the Accra Mall, only a few kilometres away. Several malls have followed from foreign developers.
“We knew that Ghana needed more than one mall and was confident that once we expanded into a mixed-use centre, we would compete well,” says Asamoah.
Competition from new office developments in the city, along with the change in work culture since Covid-19, has placed pressure on A&C’s office occupancy rates. “We are looking at how we can drop our cost per square metre to entice businesses to take up the vacant space we currently have,” says Asamoah.
The company is opening its latest development to the public in the coming months. A&C Corner, a 9,000m2 centre 1km away from A&C Mall is focused on the provision of building materials and décor.
“We felt that what Ghana needed was something akin to Home Depot in the US, or Builders’ Warehouse in South Africa,” says Asamoah. “All the space has been taken up and we will have the official opening in June.”
Next on the cards is a development which will be five to six times the size of the original A&C Mall called the A&C Village. It will span over 68,000m2 of land 5km north of the current properties.
“East Legon has no more space and people are moving into estates to the north. A&C Village will be in the heart of this new community,” says Asamoah.
Death of brick and mortar?
Asamoah does not believe in the imminent demise of physical retail and commercial property.
“We are human beings. We live human lives. You cannot go out with your friends and have something to eat online,” he says. He is not oblivious to the rise of online retail but is adamant that a diversified offering ensures success for property developers. “If you only have pure retail, yes, I think you would be in trouble. But if you are providing the right mix between lifestyle activities and retail, along with services such as banking, you won’t have a problem with visitor numbers.”
“We saw it during the pandemic. You could shop online, have food delivered, and get everything you need at home – but people were not happy. We need communal spaces, and we need each other,” he says.
A&C Development founder Andrew Asamoah’s contact information
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