Property Wheel caught up with Dave Linder, CEO of Castle Group to discuss their state-of-the-art health-tech and business start-up development, the Cape Health Innovation Campus.
Their “little project in Woodstock” is a unique, collaborative initiative between the research-based Centre for Proteomic and Genomic Research (CPGR) and Artisan Biomed to create an innovative ecosystem that will anchor co-location and synergy between big players in the bio and health tech space.
Construction began on the 6000m2 development in March 2020 but the developers experienced Covid-19 delays. The handover is scheduled for May 2021.
Some would say that Cape Town’s CBD would have been the obvious choice for this type of project. What attracted you to Woodstock?
Our focus has always been on Woodstock and its surrounding suburbs including Salt River and Observatory. Woodstock’s proximity to Cape Town’s CBD and the arterial roads is in its favour and we really believe these areas are the future of Cape Town.
We bought this property a few years ago and we saw this opportunity through the tenant who was occupying a fairly significant chunk of the building.
I bought my first building in Sir Lowry Road in 1999. At the time, Woodstock Upper was the topic of discussion and it was supposed to go through an industrial revolution of sorts. Twenty-one years later, it has taken a long time to gain traction. There are pockets of areas that have done well but there are also pockets that need to be redone properly so that it is a completely revamped suburb close to Cape Town’s CBD. Woodstock also went through a period where security became a problem but with Cape Town City Improvement District (CCID) involved, they have managed to eliminate a lot of this.
Woodstock is perceived to be ‘edgy’ and it is not corporate. Although some of our tenants are professors and doctors, we believe that this is what is attractive to them.
What exciting amenities can we expect to see?
We have witnessed a huge amount of interest in this building and we believe that Covid-19 has intensified the interest in our project. Our tenants have realized the opportunities that can arise from the sudden honed focus on health.
We have emphasized on the industrial nature of Woodstock out of respect for the area. Woodstock has gone from historic ‘clothing factories’ in the 1970’s – 1980’s to call centres and bio-artisanal type businesses. We wanted to bring an element of steel into the design by using cladding steel and internally, using steel columns and grids with a combination of ceilings with open corridors – very industrial looking but married with high-tech facilities.
We are creating a co-working environment with an emphasis on a co-laboratory environment. Laboratory equipment is incredibly expensive, prohibiting access to many. Our idea is to make these services accessible to students and researchers at a reasonable fee. Like a boardroom that is often underutilized, we can sweat these assets by making them more accessible to third parties. Allied to this, there will be a co-working scenario with hot desking and small office environments.
We have also created a central atrium throughout the building which will assist with the energy control and allow light to permeate through the building from the sixth floor to the ground floor. Each floor will circulate via the atrium. This will create a sense of movement. There will be a lot of glass too. Visitors who walk through the building may not be able to access the laboratories, but they will be able to view it all. We are hoping that this will be quite stimulating, exciting and of interest.
The ground floor will play host to a coffee shop and a co-working space.
The building will be energy efficient – from the type of windows to the type of insulation used in the electrical supplies. With the current situation that Eskom is facing – and no foreseeable changes – there will be a mixture of solar generators and Eskom-generated supply.
It also comes down to your tenant mix and creating a community within a building. The larger tenants will set the foundation by providing the laboratory equipment and providing their suppliers with the opportunity to showcase their equipment while saving on showroom space. There will be a combination of medically inclined and research focused tenants who will add value and contribute the building and its purpose.
Factoring in the national lockdown, how has the development been affected and what challenges have you faced?
We started on site in September last year. We elected not to demolish the building but to re-enforce the foundation work and to add on three floors. When Covid-19 hit, we had to close the entire site down. We returned to site when the lockdown was downgraded to Level 3.
However, our biggest challenges were not because of the pandemic; it was due to delays from Council. I believe that the whole planning process and the time in which approval takes is unacceptable. We do international work; what takes the Council in Portugal two months, takes our Council a year to do. It can be done and the whole process requires an overhaul. Many developers cannot start on their projects, the City of Cape Town is not receiving money, there are increased rates revenue and we are unable to unlock job creation. As an industry, it is something that we need to hold them accountable for. It just keeps diluting over time.
Due to the uptake in demand for this type of space, we require extra bulk and we have subsequently had to apply for additional rights for an extra floor which we are awaiting Council’s approval.
What has your approach been to this project and what do you envision long-term?
As landlords, we need tenants. We work closely with our tenants and we match them with a building or, we match them with other tenants to create a synergy within a building. By creating synergy and a vision, it becomes positive and inclusive, unlocking further opportunities for everyone. We see our tenants as stakeholders within an industry collaborating.
We understand their businesses and we offer our tenants a wide suite of options. This is what differentiates us from the rest of the market. We are signing leases and there are not many landlords who are not currently haemorrhaging.
We will end up with a great facility, on the edge of Cape Town’s CBD and off the highway with accessibility to the N1 – the gateway to Woodstock.
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