Urban property fund Divercity is helping City of Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba to realise his concept of restoring the Johannesburg central business district (CBD) to some degree of its former glory, as well as his wish to “turn Johannesburg into a construction site”, with old buildings being given a new lease of life.
Divercity invests in residential, commercial and retail assets in dense urban nodes, with a focus on human- centred design and integrated public space. The fund is jointly supported with assets from major property companies Atterbury Group, Talis Property Holdings and Ithemba Group.
Two new key developments being undertaken by Divercity are the Jewel City development and ABSA Towers. Both are redevelopment projects, so the bulk of the existing properties is being retained and modernised in line with improvements to the aesthetics of the areas in which the buildings are located.
The Jewel City development is a mixed-use precinct spanning six city blocks in the east of the Johannesburg CBD, and adjacent to the Maboneng precinct. The area is bordered by Main and Commissioner streets, Sivewright avenue and Joe Slovo drive.
Jewel City was, until recently, a hub for diamonds and precious metals beneficiation, including jewellery making. Much of South African-mined diamond, gold and platinum jewellery originated from manufacturers in Jewel City. As a result of the high levels of security required, Phillips, Fox and Greene streets were sealed off to the general public for about ten years.
Atterbury development manager Derrick Pautz tells Engineering News that, in addition to keeping the Jewel City name, other legacy aspects will also be retained – for example, some of the centre names, such as Rubinek House, Diamond Centre and Gold Centre.
Some of the new artwork to be incorporated into the new development will contain elements associated with the old Jewel City. These artworks will be displayed in some of the foyers of residential units and along the streets in and around the new Jewel City. “There will also be sculptures and statues using the steel of the existing gates and other components of the old Jewel City,” he says.
Jewel City will be developed in two phases. In Phase 1, Block 1 will be redeveloped into a completely new residential building using the existing structure. Block 2 is set to become a two-storey building, which will be redeveloped into a commercial and retail space.
Block 3 will remain as it currently stands for the time being, continuing to house existing tenants the State Diamond Trader (SDT) and the South African Diamond and Precious Metals Regulator (SADPMR) until 2020, when these tenants are due to vacate. Block 4 will be developed into parking and residential units using the existing structure, while Block 5 will be new A-grade office space within the existing structure, as well as parking and retail on lower floors.
Block 6, which used to be open-air parking for tenants and visitors to Jewel City, will be a completely new build comprising an 11-storey, 600-unit residential apartment block, with a few retail offerings on the ground floor. Earthworks for the basement started in the last quarter of 2018.
Another reason the project is being undertaken in two phases is to allow for enough time between the launching of the first 1 100 residential units (Blocks 3 and 4) and the last 1 000 residential units, which will be redeveloped once the SDT and the SADPMR vacate.
“A second phase enables us to let the bulk of units through the first phase before we begin marketing the additional 1 000 units of Phase 2, rather than simply dumping 2 000 new residential units onto the market at once,” explains Pautz.
Besides the additional 1 000 units in Phase 2, a private school and a clinic or hospital will also be added. The school and the clinic or hospital will be secured through an established service provider. “We would like to incorporate the school into Block 4 as part of Phase 2. We are also consulting with a couple of day-clinic service providers and hospital groups, which we would most likely put into Block 3”.
In terms of bulk infrastructure, Pautz points out, Divercity’s civil and electrical engineers have conducted an extensive inspection of the existing services, and have subsequently ascertained that the services are more than sufficient to handle the increased demand brought by the new development. “We will still be below the existing bulks rights allowed on site,” he adds.
However, there will be repairs and potential upgrades of connections, valves and meters to the latest technology, he elaborates.
Block 6 will be installed with new connections, in line with the requirements of the new residential block, as this block does not have any connections because it used to be a parking lot.
A key pillar in the focus of Divercity’s overall strategy is its “precinct concept”, whereby an area, and not simply a building, is developed.
In this regard, Pautz highlights the inclusion of the school and the clinic or hospital in the development of Jewel City, as they ensure increased attractiveness for residents, business tenants and even visitors.
“The reason for investing in precincts, rather than single-use developments that are done in isolation in the city, is . . . the synergy that they bring,” he says. Jewel City’s residential units will attract residents who will, in turn, support the new retail offerings. Commercial offerings will provide additional employment, thus attracting more people to the residential offerings on a live-near-work basis, Pautz explains.
“We do not want to create a precinct that is only bustling at night and, therefore, we believe that a school will bring that day-time use and provide the amenity for residents so that their children can be schooled near home and particularly within this precinct.”
In terms of the type of school being considered, Pautz says all options are being considered: “We are in discussions with providers . . . from primary to tertiary level. We feel, however, that there is [a greater] need for a high school in the CBD, as there isn’t one.”
The same concept applies to the clinic or the hospital, as the nearest hospital is about 10 km away: “We felt that there is a need for a good private hospital in the precinct,” adds Pautz.
He adds that safety and security are of “paramount importance” to Divercity and that, in addition to technology advances in security and closed-circuit television cameras, number plate and facial recognition infrastructure will also be employed within Jewel City. “We will have cameras in and around all the buildings. This will be linked to the existing City of Johannesburg (CoJ) central security control rooms.”
Divercity also understands the importance of visible policing, says Pautz. “From a private developer’s perspective, we will provide private security on site in the form of street-level patrol officers. We also have a commitment from the mayor to provide a permanent Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department presence in Jewel City in the form of a satellite office.”
Much of the CBD remains in a state of perpetual decay, with many hijacked buildings, increasing levels of crime and by-law infringements.
“When you look at development spend over the past ten years, there has been very little, to none, in the Johannesburg CBD,” says Pautz. He notes that the revitalisation of Newtown is a prime example of how a district can be changed for the good.
The old Potato Sheds, Newtown Junction and City Lodge, as well as the BMW and Ford car dealerships, both of which are on Carr street, are examples of how urban decay has been stopped, with major role-players having taken advantage of opportunities and worked together to improve the Newtown district. “We spent a considerable amount of money there and that kind of environment for residents has been completely transformed from what it was as little as ten years ago.”
Pautz says the buy-in from the CoJ needs to be commended: “We have received unprecedented support and assistance from the CoJ, the mayor’s office, the building control office and everyone else in that greater team, including the Johannesburg Roads Agency.
“There is huge buy-in in this kind of redevelopment, which has been outstanding for quite some time, in the Johannesburg CBD, and I think, if this project . . . is a great success, then, hopefully, other developers will follow suit and also bring new capital investment into the Johannesburg CBD.”