Vital Signs

Posted On Friday, 14 March 2008 02:00 Published by eProp Commercial Property News
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Just as it was with New York when it was in decline, so it was in Joeys. Maybe that’s because the media are basically the same whatever continent they are in, they just love bad news...

Ian Fife“Another nail in the coffin” was a frequent headline both here and there. When the JSE announced they were moving northwards; when the Carlton Hotel closed; when Nedbank upped and went, each event provided ‘another nail’!  In fact there were so many nails in the coffin that it was nothing short of a miracle that the corpse could push aside the lid and start breathing again! And it has, both here and there. We clearly still have some way to go. But the vital signs have slowly started emerging particularly over the last couple of years. Two that have become very apparent lately are the recovery in rental levels, with a corresponding decline in vacancies, and a return of the ‘city infrastructure’. By infrastructure I don’t mean roads, pavements and sewers but those aspects of a city that make it livable.

If one remembers that it wasn’t that long ago when gross rentals for good quality space were hovering around the R20.00 per square metre mark, then it may be surprising to some to know that double that is now quite commonplace. Even more surprising to some may be the news that recent lettings for new quality space are more than double that again, edging close to Sandton levels! So it should be no surprise that one sees construction cranes back in the city, two on the west side of Magistrates Court busy on the first commercial office tower to be built in the Inner City for a couple of decades and another major block (parking and offices) to commence shortly on the block bounded by Diagonal, Kerk, Sauer and Pritchard streets which will link into the Bank City complex. Office vacancies should also be affected by the number of older office blocks that have been transformed into residential. Way back in March 1998 Citichat suggested that the issue wasn’t “how we can grow big again?” but rather “how can we prosper with what we have?” and the conversions to residential have certainly answered the latter question in part. 

It is this increase in residential population that is in fact now starting to drive the return of ‘city infrastructure’. The residential population of the inner city has sky-rocketed. from about 120 000 in 1992/3 to about three times that by the end of last year. A large amount of residential projects are being launched or will be launched this year and the council aims to have at least 70 000 additional residential units provided by 2015. I would guess that we will have an inner city with between a half and three quarters of a million people living, working and playing in its revitalised environment within a decade. Whilst the majority will be the rapidly growing middle-income group, a much smaller higher income group are also being accommodated with apartments and lofts - disposable income is coming back to the inner city. It is this new wave of inner-city residents, middle and higher income, that is attracting new retail services (city infrastructure) from gyms and laundries to pavement cafes and restaurants and now hotel rooms!

I know that Ian Fife of the Financial Mail has often stated that the benchmark for the return of the city is a 24 hour delicatessen. That will eventually come, but what is happening is the return of this city infrastructure not only in the form of coffee shops and pavement cafes but also hotel rooms and quality restaurants. So it was no surprise to be at the official opening on Monday of the Mapungubwe Hotel Apartments.  Previously the French Bank building on the block edged by Anderson, Ferreira and Marshall Streets, it has been converted to a four star hotel /apartment block. It is thus well positioned in relation to the corporate sector with companies such as Anglo American and Standard Bank as neighbours. The Hotel/Apartments tag is because the project was developed as a sectional title scheme with 91 hotel apartments and an additional 37 residential apartments of which, I understand, a number are already occupied. The accommodation options include very well appointed studio or 1-bedroomed apartments whilst the hotel provides a fully equipped communications and business centre; high speed internet connectivity in each room as well as a fully equipped gymnasium and a swimming pool. It also has CCTV surveillance, 24-hour security and valet parking.  I had a meeting with some hotel guests from the UK last week and we used the pool deck in the central well of the complex which was gloriously quiet and didn’t feel like being in the city at all.  A shuttle service to and from the O.R Tambo Airport as well as an ‘on demand shopping facility’ for the apartments’ residents is also available, maybe not a 24 hour delicatessen but as close as one can get!

The food and beverage side of the hotel is via a restaurant called Black a tastefully styled Afro-chic decorated restaurant (all the interior design of the hotel is inspired by the Mapungubwe theme) serving breakfast, lunch and dinner which is a welcome addition to the ‘city infrastructure’ particularly in the south west quadrant of the city. It has a ‘gentleman’s club’ styled bar-lounge in the basement that has retained the vault grilles of the building’s original occupier, the French Bank. Planned is a health bar which will provide quick lunches for the local business community. The hotel hit 90% occupancy over the past two weeks which refelects the need. 

Now, to the fact that this is the first new four-star hotel facility in the inner city in yonks, add a number of other new establishments and we get back to vital signs. Isibaya House, on the corner of Marshall and Simmonds Streets boasts a new Cappino Haute Café with great cappucinos which can be imbibed inside or at the pavement tables. Both Main Street and Gandhi Square have attracted a host of pavement coffee-shops including Nino’s, the Coffee Shop, Cramer’s Coffee and Cappellos plus fast-food businesses Newtown’s No 1 Central Place provides  Kaldi’s Coffee and the Sophiatown Bar Lounge whilst Moyo @ the Market Theatre jostles with the ‘old faithful’, Gramedoelas, which continues in its consistency of good food, wine and service.

But right in the heart of the city, 87 Commissioner Street, in the splendid, lofty banking hall of this 1902/3 National Bank Building, a new up-market restaurant, Picasso’s Restaurant & Bar, is due to open this month. I haven’t been able to get in as yet but I believe that a great deal of expense has gone into providing a fine dining ambience.

The City Bakery in de Beer Street in Braamfontein is also housed in one of the city’s refurbished heritage buildings and is a must for freshly baked croissants, butternut breads and cinnamon sticks and great coffee. Also in Braamies at 81 De Korte the Narina Trogon, will open initially for breakfast and lunch and with a take away patisserie and will specialise in high quality hormone free local produce. The Narina Trogon is a beautiful but elusive bird named after the Khoikoi mistress of a French orthinologist. 

Hotel rooms, quality eateries and coffee shops – it’s all adding to the returning vitality of the inner city.

Last modified on Friday, 16 May 2014 13:39

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