Block by block and street by street, Port Elizabeth’s historic Central is steadily being reclaimed and regenerated as a vibrant hub of live-work-and-play activity, housing students, young professionals, creative and professional businesses and tertiary education institutions as well as popular tourist attractions.
“In fact, it is rapidly becoming one of the trendiest precincts in the whole city, and a place of pride for the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro,” says Andrew Schaefer, MD of property management company Trafalgar, which currently owns and manages 10 buildings in the area that house more than 1000 students and young professionals who work nearby.
“In the same way as Maboneng led the way to the redevelopment and renewal of a really run-down and degenerate part of Johannesburg’s inner city, Central is quickly shaping up now as a sought-after address for Millennials who favour a ‘new urban’ lifestyle with their workplaces, retail outlets and recreation options all right on the doorstep – or at least within easy walking distance of home.”
And it was with this in mind, he says, that Trafalgar purchased and completely restored three buildings in Havelock Street last year. These currently provide top-quality, safe and serviced accommodation for more than 100 students and young working singles and couples.
“In the meanwhile, we have also been awarded mandates by other investors in the area to manage seven more buildings offering similar accommodation options. Four of these are already almost 100% occupied and there is huge demand for the other three, which will be ready for occupation in September.”
Rentals in these buildings – some of which are university-accredited – all include water and electricity, wi-fi and DSTV access, biometrics, CCTV and turnstile access-control, daily cleaning of common lounges, kitchens and bathrooms, and in some cases a gym and laundry on site. All the rooms are carpeted and furnished and rentals start at R1500 a month per student sharing a triple room, R2250 for single rooms and R2800 for a double room. .
The process of regenerating Central began in earnest about 10 years ago when the Mandela Bay Development Agency (MBDA) started to upgrade Govan Mbeki Avenue as well as some public infrastructure and historic landmarks such as the Athenaeum, the Donkin Reserve and more recently, the Tramways building and the Campanile.
The hope was that this would catalyse private sector investment in the area, and it did, starting with the multi-million rand renovation of the old Port Elizabeth Club in Bird Street into chambers for a large number of advocates who can now walk to the High Court.
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This was followed by Denton Properties’ extensive restoration of the historic Donkin Street terrace houses and surrounding Victorian cottages to form the Donkin Creative Quarter and Donkin Village, an expanding business node that accommodates architects, publishers, photographers, designers and other creative professionals and forms the core of the vision that international property tycoon Ken Denton has for the whole area.
“The overall idea,” he says, “is to give the new creative industries or ‘orange economy’ a home in the heart of the city, in a mixed-use, human-scale setting that also contains high-end retail, restaurant and entertainment venues, attractive residential buildings and upgraded streets and public piazzas”.
“This will provide a great showcase for the exceptional historic sites that exist in Central and have the potential to also attract a significant amount of tourism and hospitality business to the area.”
Denton, who acquired scores of buildings in Central when it started to go into a decline in the late 1990s, has restored and renovated almost 40 of them to date, including some two-storey blocks of flats and a six-storey office building, but has also sold several others to individual investors to revamp, and is now hoping that the demand from individual homebuyers will also start to rise.
“Being close to the High Court, the St George’s Hospital, the university’s new Arts Hub and several independent tertiary institutions, the upgraded apartments in Central are expected to become increasingly attractive to legal and medical professionals as well as academics and post-graduate creatives, and that will really reinforce pride and security in the area,” he says.
And it appears that this will happen sooner rather than later, according to Sarah Webb, a director of the Trust for Urban Housing Finance (TUHF), which has over the past five years assisted several private investors to buy and upgrade about R80m worth of residential rental accommodation in Central.
“TUHF typically finances the renovation, refurbishment or conversion of existing buildings to provide affordable rental accommodation in inner city areas that the banks regard as too risky. We aim to boost urban regeneration in the process and regard it as a great measure of success if the banks start to lend again in an area where we have been active. This is exactly what is happening in Central now, and that means that home loans for individual buyers in the area are probably not very far off.”