Durban’s sought-after Point poised for new wave of development

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Durban’s Point precinct is been transformed into a property market paradise, with upgraded roads and waterways leading to upmarket apartment blocks.

A decade ago Durban’s Point precinct was dominated by dilapidated buildings that were home to vagrants and criminals. It has been transformed into a property market paradise, with upgraded roads and waterways leading to upmarket apartment blocks, restaurants, hotels and offices.

But in the past few years development stalled. The city and developers blame this lull on the 2008 global recession and SA’s slow economic growth that affected many sectors of the economy, including property and leisure investment.

Now the Point precinct is poised for another wave of development, including new skyscrapers. eThekwini municipality and UEM Sunrise, one of Malaysia’s biggest property companies - joint owners of the Durban Point Development Company - have plans to revive the stalled multibillion-rand waterfront project and other supporting amenities.

These include a Cape Town-style waterfront at the entrance to Africa’s busiest port. Other plans include five- and six-star hotels, a 33-storey skyscraper, residential apartments, office parks and shopping malls.

City authorities and developers say these projects will augment others including the nearby uShaka Marine World, Moses Mabhida Stadium, Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre and the beach promenade to ensure that Durban truly becomes “Africa’s playground”.

Business owners in the precinct say the new developments are welcome news.

The Three Cities Waterfront Hotel and Spa (formerly the Docklands Hotel) on Mahatma Gandhi Road has a breathtaking view of the harbour. The three-star hotel is a popular venue for weddings, parties, spas and product launches.

Like many old buildings along the Point precinct, the hotel is in a building more than a century old and is protected by the provincial heritage agency, Amafa. Its architecture signals a bygone era with facebrick and ironwork masking the modern facilities. A stone’s throw from the hotel is the South African Maritime School and Transport College, housed in two old buildings about 500m from uShaka Marine World. The school offers courses such as shipping practice, customs clearing, freight logistics, international trade and transport, sailing, and leadership training.

The college’s marketing manager, Nonhlanhla Dlamini, says the Point is an ideal location to teach young people maritime studies since it is within walking distance of the Durban harbour.

“The Point offers a truly South African dockside experience, yet has tranquillity and beauty. Students love it here because they not only learn but have access to the nearby harbour to see where they will work during their careers,” she says.

Herman Chalupsky, of Chalupsky Properties, which is based in the Point, says the next round of development will put the area on par with Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront, the Docklands in London, New York’s Meatpacking District, San Francisco’s Pier 68 and other rejuvenated dockside areas across the world.

“We are very excited because this will be the most sought-after area in all of Durban. The office space will double in the next three months as Ithala Development Bank and the Lion Match company will move their headquarters here.”

The developers are not allowed to tamper with the 100-year-old buildings, one of which — the old compound that once housed railway workers — is now owned by young property developer Nkululeko Mnganga. He is transforming it into one-, two- and three-bedroomed apartments. There is already a waiting list.

“This area is going to be very big in investment terms in the next few years. Everyone is building something or another. We expect not only huge returns on our investments but also the upliftment of the whole Point area,” he says.

But not everyone is happy with the plans for the area and objectors have been vocal at the public meetings in which the development plans are shared. A major complaint is that they have been given limited time to comment on the latest changes to the plans.

There is a new 50-page motivation plan that includes a small “waterfront basin” instead of the original yacht and small-craft “harbour”. The plan to build an 18-storey hotel at Vetch’s Pier has been amended to a 20-storey “five- or six-star iconic hotel” that will be built along the new north pier.

Anne Farris, a Point resident opposed to the new development, says another new feature is a 33-storey tower block at the base of the north pier, likely to provide office space, shops and flats. She says the “huge skyscrapers” that will be built in front of her home will block her view of the sea and the warmth of the sun.

“It’s not that we don’t want to see development in the area. But when we bought here … we were under the impression that there would be no building taller than 10 floors. But they are now proposing many skyscrapers.”

Karin Solomon, a Point resident and a member of Save Our Sunshine Durban, says people who were “duped” into investing in the Point are now crying foul because they are to be duped again.

“Many people who are currently living in apartments at the Point, who have lost millions due to the investment they have made there, now stand to lose even more. Some are sitting with properties they cannot sell because of the proposed highrise buildings very close to their apartments,” she says.

Soban Bevarah, project manager and head of operations in SA for Renong/UEM Sunrise, says construction on the new developments is starting in earnest.

He says residents will benefit because their property values will increase when the project is completed.

Concern about shadows caused by highrises was unfounded because the development was designed in an S-shape to minimise shadows on the beach.

“There are also big gaps to bring in sunlight. The shadows and views were taken into consideration, with at least 80% of the views unaffected.”

Whether for or against the past and current development of the Point precinct, people agree that the area will not be the same again.

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