Change in the pulse rate for the heart of Durban
A seed of expectation is sprouting in the Durban CBD. Rejuvenation plans have property developers and agents forecasting a vibrant and thriving city centre.
Crime, grime and a general dullness of nightlife continues to shape perceptions of what is supposed to be the heart of Durban, but the eThekwini Municipality’s radical clean-up programme to holistically improve the inner city aims to change that and attract further investment.
“Unfortunately, throughout the decades, Durban’s commercial growth and development has greatly excluded its CBD, with private developers and government opting to expand into nodes towards the north of Durban,” says Ryan Berry, managing director of Deal Core Property Group.
“This has resulted in abandoned and dilapidated buildings around the CBD which further entrenched lacklustre investor and developer confidence.”
However, Berry is noticing heightened interest in Durban’s CBD. He has facilitated the sale of three adjoining properties in Quadrant House on the corner of Joe Slovo Street and Margaret Mncadi Avenue. The intention, he says, is to redevelop these properties into A-grade offices with ample parking.
“The rejuvenation of the CBD is attracting many new businesses, and the latest JLL Durban Office Market Report indicates this.”
The report says as a result of high demand for rental properties, prices have surged, with landlords asking for an average of R95/m² for A-grade rentals compared to R75/m² in the second quarter of the year.
Although asking prices are increasing, Berry says the area is “most affordable” when compared to Berea, Umhlanga/La Lucia Ridge, Westville, and Hillcrest/Kloof, where prices can reach up to R135/m².
Echoing this optimism, Propertuity’s Mondli Cele says “growing confidence” in the CBD has seen businesses remodelling their ground floor retail spaces and an increase in interest for affordable residential developments.
“This is generating a strong presence in the city which will hopefully lead to organic growth.”
At the moment, Cele says, property owners and commercial businesses in the CBD are affected by crime, dirty streets and subdued night activity, and even though crime has decreased since the introduction of the Urban Improvement Precinct, there are still reported incidents occurring “from time to time”.
“Streets are often dirty because of the lack of care by the general public. It’s impossible to simply commission the perfect neighbourhood. We know success will rely on layered living – the businesses, the buildings and the community that will come to inhabit the spaces over time.”
As Durban’s CBD gradually transforms back to its former glory, Berry says developers, investors and businesses are “beginning to realise the high potential in the area”. Although rentals are still affordable, trends are showing the restoration process is driving up demand, and subsequently prices, for commercial rental properties.
“This means the time for businesses to expand into or relocate to the CBD is now as, in the future, rents will increase alongside massive development.”
Once the city is rejuvenated and the negative issues addressed, Cele says people will be matched with premises, turning unused space into mixed-use spaces and spaces for start-ups and young professionals.
“One of the most important things we look forward to is seeing the change in suburban mind-sets of the people of Durban in terms of the way they see their city and their roles within it. We want people to stop seeing Durban as a dull city and feeling despondent about it.
“Hopefully in the future, perceptions of the inner city will change and it will become a place where once again small business meets big business.”
eThekwini Municipality Mayor Zandile Gumede describes great cities as those which are “liveable communities of people where government, commerce, and culture thrive”. They offer a variety of lifestyles and recreation and find a unique balance between the natural and the built environment.
“Durban should be a great city and we are working towards making this a reality.”