Advice and Opinion

SA’s heritage holds key to economic growth

Protecting heritage buildings is a financial, rather than sentimental strategy – and one which will unlock sought-after economic returns for the region.

So says Port Elizabeth heritage building expert Bryan Wintermeyer of SVA International architects, who holds a master’s degree in the conservation of the built environment.

“We need to start thinking about heritage as an economic resource as opposed to an economic burden,”said Wintermeyer.“Rather than focusing on the obligation to preserve the baggage of the past for our children, we need to adopt a more contemporary heritage approach and talk about heritage as a way of using the past.”

“If it’s not useful, or beneficial, or valued by a certain community or group of people, then it’s not Heritage creates investment opportunities and is a catalyst for economic development. Early twentieth century and post-war buildings tend to have the added benefits of solidly built with generous room sizes”, Wintermeyer said.

“An older block of flats usually has fewer and bigger units. So we turn a block of 10 units into 20 and suddenly the business plan is looking good. And it’s relatively quick because zoning and other issues are already in place.”

“In addition”, he says, “agencies like Trust for Urban Housing Finance (TUHF) provide bridging finance for entrepreneurs and developers focusing on inner city redevelopment, where many of the older buildings are located”.

“For them it’s a business case and the numbers work. Inner city sites are safest, get the most returns and are good business.”

For developers like Himat Ramsugit, who has been buying residential fixer-uppers for over a decade, PE’s inner city areas like Central, Korsten and North End present a wealth of opportunities.

“I bought my first dilapidated property in Albany Road, which was a haven for criminals and prostitutes. I immediately refurbished this building and began looking around the Central area for other opportunities,” said Ramsugit, whose latest projects with SVA International includes Murray Mansions and the adjacent Murray Court in the same street.

“Central has been transformed and is still being developed, with much fewer dilapidated buildings and the streets being kept cleaner, thus making it more habitable – and the demand for rental property is increasing.”

As a member of the national Association of Professional Heritage Practitioners and Mandela Bay Heritage Trust, heritage work remains a particular passion for Wintermeyer.

“In 10 years’ time, we’ll be thinking of heritage the same way we do the environmental impact – it’s just something developers have to do as part of their process.”