(Port Elizabeth) – Urban renewal projects in cities across South Africa are increasingly getting buy-in from the private sector as businesses see the value in working with municipalities on gentrification plans which benefit both the public and private sectors.
Hard on the heels of inner city rejuvenation projects like Johannesburg’s Newtown and Maboneng precincts, and the Old Biscuit Mill and Woodstock Exchange tourism hotspots in Cape Town, comes the redevelopment of the Central area in Port Elizabeth.
The Eastern Cape’s largest architectural firm, SVA International, is joining this national movement in backing city plans to gentrify an area of the CBD which in the 1980s was a major commercial and retail node, but has since seen an exodus of businesses.
The city’s urban renewal arm, the Mandela Bay Development Agency (MBDA), has now received a boost for its plans to upgrade the Rink Street area with SVA International relocating from its provincial headquarters in the leafy suburb of Walmer to a 503m2 space on the strip, which is being turned into a modern work environment.
“We recognised that sitting safely in the suburbs wasn’t going to help change the city. The intention behind our move was to create a presence in a place that needed change,” said SVA branch manager Debbie Wintermeyer, who was also part of the team that helped create the developmental framework for the city.
According to Wintermeyer, urban revitalisation projects in major centres had gained traction over the past decade and become catalysts for further development, attracting a strong critical mass. It was important for her firm to demonstrate its commitment to the urban revitalisation, she said, adding that her team had studied the data over the past three years before taking the leap.
“Rink Street is the last of the strategic connection points that could quite quickly connect the individual success stories that MBDA has created over the last several years,” said Wintermeyer.
PE’s gentrification hotspots have included the adjoining Bird Street precinct – which is home to various arts-oriented colleges, a theatre, art galleries and the local law fraternity – and the Govan Mbeki precinct circumscribing the historic Campanile connection, Vuyisile Square and restored Opera House.
Past projects in the area have included the Donkin Reserve precinct upgrade, forming part of the Route 67 art tour. The Donkin redevelopment also acted as a catalyst for adjacent private investments such as the Donkin Creative Quarter, with historic homes transformed into a village-style business centre, and the revamped King Edward Hotel and Grand Hotel.
The MBDA is currently busy with the redevelopment of the Old Tramways building, which forms part of the Baakens Valley project, linking Rink Street and the CBD with the proposed waterfront.
MBDA spokesman Luvuyo Bangazi said the Rink Street upgrade would be one of the long-term projects linked to the proposed revitalisation of the St George’s Park precinct.
“The Baakens masterplan is a long-term blueprint that will guide future developments for the next 10 years or more,” he said, adding that some of the identified Rink Street upgrade elements would include improved pedestrian and cycle links as well as improved parking facilities.
For every project implemented, the MBDA conducted annual economic impact assessments in the area to gauge their catalytic effect on property values and business confidence, said Bangazi.
“In every study we see the impact is positive, and the public investment by the MBDA has been the cause of some of the major private sector developments. Respondents are asked whether the upgrades have had any influence, and 70% or more say they would not have invested if it wasn’t for the MBDA cleaning up the front yard.”
He said the agency was delighted to welcome businesses like SVA back into the city centre.
“We see that business confidence in these areas is rising and that can only be good for all of us and the city government in terms of an increased rates base, job creation and marketability of the city.”
Wintermeyer added that Central had become a particularly important hub for the creative industries, with a number of advertising and PR agencies, photographers, art galleries and the like setting up shop there.
She said feeder institutions like NMMU’s music, art and design hub and the AFDA film school had also positioned themselves in nearby Bird Street.
“Being here is great for connecting with people on the street and collaborating with the design fraternity. We are creating liveable art for people.”
Wintermeyer said one of the remaining challenges was encouraging the densification in the city centre.
“I think the intent is there – a lot of people have shown faith in the city by putting their businesses here. We need more bold moves. It will happen.”
Picture: URBAN RENEWAL: The Eastern Cape’s largest architectural firm, SVA International, is spearheading the revitalisation of Rink Street. Directors Alasdair Strong (left), Bryan Wintermeyer (standing), and Debbie Wintermeyer (right) and their team are already at work in their new space. (Image: Supplied)