Once the best-performing asset class on the JSE, listed property posted a negative return of 35% in 2020, with one of the country’s largest listed property owners seeing an increase in the vacancy rate of its office buildings increase 44% since 2019, from 10.2% to 14.7%. That number is only set to rise as leases come due for renewal, with companies downsizing or shifting to a hybrid work-from-home model.
That leaves the glamorous Sandton CBD skyline looking for a new purpose to become an integrated living and working urban community – or, at least, it would, if new multi-use developments like BlackBrick are emerging as a reinvention of vacant office buildings into accessible accommodation and co-working spaces, drawing sales in excess of R450 million over the last two years.
With one building at the entrance to Fredman Drive already converted, and another under construction, the vertical villages will be home to 500 serviced, furnished hotel apartments with everything from meditation gardens to boardrooms and boxing gyms, concierge, a 100-seater auditorium dubbed the unconvention centre, an outdoor cinema, rooftop pool and two restaurants. This tech driven hospitality pioneer, BlackBrick, is driving the Sandton CBD toward a new purpose and establishing itself as the largest and most successful development in the precinct.
The live-work model is a new asset class to contend with the former power of listed property in the area, drawing a new breed of young professionals who embraced the flexibility of the work-from-home lifestyle before the arrival of the pandemic. With the arrival of BlackBrick, they were able to consolidate their lifestyle on the back of the availability of affordable apartments in the heart of Sandton, financed at the lowest interest rate in five decades and offering every amenity they need to live and work, in one location.
“It is more a reinvention than a regeneration of Sandton,” says BlackBrick Sandton Rental Manager Tobey Mayisela. “Developments like BlackBrick allow people the opportunity to live and work in the same energetic, dynamic space, but also get a chance to separate life and work by accessing plenty of amenities when they need to. It’s also proved to be a remarkable investment opportunity for young, like-minded people who take advantage of the rewards of having their units operated either as hotel apartments, drawing regular income from short-stay rentals or opting for guaranteed returns on long-term leases. Our hotel occupancy is trading at 82% in May 2021, which is massive compared to hotel-only properties in the surrounding CBD, which have struggled to get to above 30%,” says Mayisela.
Operating on a membership model, BlackBrick also frees up owners to take their live-work lifestyle to multiple cities – BlackBrick Cape Town is due to open in mid-June 2021 and premium members will be free to switch seamlessly between the two locations and access all the amenities at both. Members can stay at 22 Fredman and use work and lifestyle facilities on both sides of the street. All BlackBrick properties will be linked with one innovative app that guests and members can make use of to access all facilities.
“We have all learned the importance of being flexible in how we live, work and play over the last eighteen months or so, and we believe that the option to change locations at the click of a button is going to help define the future of how professionals live and network,” Mayisela adds.