The previously dormant section of the CBD, bordered by District Six, has been dubbed the precinct of possibilities by the Central City Improvement District (CCID).
Carola Kolbitz, the CCID’s communications manager, said in the State of the Cape Town Central City Report: 2016 – A year in review, published at the beginning of 2017, they had predicted the rise of the east city.
She said that although the mid-2000s saw a flurry of residential development due to conversions of numerous underutilised commercial buildings, the east city – until around 2016 – had to a large extent been the least active of the four CCID precincts in terms of rejuvenation and growth.
“The global property bubble bursting around 2008 saw many residential units return to the market and, on the whole, remain either empty or were occupied largely by students looking for reasonable rentals.
“Large government departments in the area have traditionally taken up a fair amount of space, while numerous heritage buildings have made redevelopment challenging.
“This is also the precinct in which retail and commercial rentals over a number of years have been at the lower scale of the CBD, and thus there has been a proliferation of space used by wholesalers, larger low-end clothing distributors, and the types of businesses that need big floor space at competitive rentals, such as casting studios, flooring showrooms and light industrial operations.” However, she said, the investment value has been significantly changing over the past year. “Residential blocks are now seeing increasing numbers of owner-occupiers, including many young professionals, seeking the downtown lifestyle, and as a result, the R/m2 of sold units is now starting to catch up with the rest of the central city. The night-time economy and after hours economy is also starting to pick up significantly, with a number of new venues opening within the past 12 to 18 months. There has also been an increasing demand over the past year for commercial and retail space, which is still the most economical in the CBD.”
The precinct has also recently undergone many upgrades, such as that of the City Hall, and Church Square (“Reinventing precinct”, CapeTowner, March 2 2017) as well as 61 Harrington Street, previously The Assembly (“Memories ‘assembled’ as music venue closes”, CapeTowner, August 11, 2016), which was transformed into three night-time venues.
Of the R14.226 billion worth of development on the go across the entire CCID footprint, including all the buildings that opened their doors in 2017, plus those currently under construction or in the planning phase and set to begin construction before 2020, R1.527 billion is planned for the east city.
These include the Cape Town Station redevelopment phase 2 worth R210 million; the College of Cape Town upgrade worth R19 million; Master of High Court building upgrades worth R70 million; and the Strand Street concourse upgrade worth R40 million.
Developments under way is the City Hall upgrade worth R27 million and the Old Granary building upgrade worth R31 million. In the planning phase is 1 Harrington Street redevelopment worth R130 million, and the Cape Town Station proposed development worth R1 billion.
Chad Shapiro, senior commercial broker for Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty in the CBD, City Bowl and Atlantic Seaboard, said the east city is situated directly between the central business area and the residential part of the city bowl including areas like Gardens, Vredehoek, Higgovale and Devils Peak.
“It offers a residential component which is conveniently situated between the commercial and residential nodes offering convenience for the young business person that does not want to travel too far between work and home. It is also not situated directly in the centre of town which makes for a more relaxed work environment. There are a number of arty and tech type businesses in this area so it has become a hub in this way.” He said that a number of the larger commercial buildings have already been remodelled and upgraded, including The Harrington, 50 Buitenkant, the entire Church Square area and new construction includes the Amazon building which is being built where Viglietti Motors use to be situated.
“Mixed-use has also become a watchword in the area with several already established, like Roeland Square, the Earthlife building and 62 Roeland, which is one of the most diverse creative locations that includes The East City Studios events on the top floors, and eTV has moved in just a road away in De Villiers Street.
“We have found that 62 Roeland has specifically been a strong point of interest for customers who are looking for an introduction into the Cape Town creative and trendy market.”
Mr Shapiro said that there has also been substantial city improvement specifically in the Upper Harrington Street location where a number of government controlled housing complexes are situated and some of the privately-owned houses are now also being renovated.
“The area is increasingly becoming the residential location of choice for young professionals and students as it is so conveniently located and now includes some of the city’s trendiest eatery and party locations, such as The Harrington Bar, Surfa Rosa, the District, New York Bagel Deli, the old classic Dias Tavern, Kimberly Hotel and Truth Bar.
“Cape Town’s strong coffee culture is also staking its claim in the area with major role players such as Haas and Truth now attracting the city’s coffee-lovers in droves.”
Bread Milk and Honey owner Mandy Mitchell said they have been in the east city for 12 years. They previously had a business at Speakers’ Corner just across the square.
“Speakers’ Corner has been sold and we snapped up the space opposite, so it worked out well for us.”
She said while the space has been upgraded and looks a lot nicer, more and more eateries and coffee shops have been opening in the east city.
“It’s the same customers that are spread more thinly now, so I foresee food spaces opening up and then closing again. It’s not good for business.”
She said it would be nice to see a more diverse spread of services in the east city, such as retail and more service shops.
Jacqui Biess of Charly’s Bakery opened shop in the east city 17 years ago in Roeland Street.
“We had sold our restaurant at Waterfront and opened a wholesale bakery in Roeland Street. We then moved to our own building in Canterbury Street after the business grew.”
She said Charly’s Bakery and Woodheads nearby are often called the anchor tenants of the east city.
She said when they first moved to there it was a dreadful area.
“There were lots of homeless people and it was very messy. At the time the CCID had just started up and they have made such a difference.”
Asked why they had chose to be in the east city from day one, Ms Biess said that it wasn’t really about the location.
“I believed if we had the right product, people will follow us, but we were also excited to move into the space and watch it develop over time.”
She said over the past few months, there have been more people visiting the area. “We used to be a destination – there was no passing trade. Suddenly we have people in the area. It’s nice to have so many new food shops, and most of the organisations. It works really well. The District Six clinic is also a nice new addition.”
However, she said, something needs to be done about the vacant land used as parking. “It could be used for something better. We also need more recycling bins in the area, and more visibility from the CCID and police.”
Asked about the residents in the area, Ms Biess said that they have noticed a number of people move in near Roeland Street after the area was revitalised, however, the area near Harrington Street is still taking a while. But, she said, with the city’s inner city housing proposal, there will be an influx of residents in the near future.
The City of Cape Town had recently identified sites in neighbouring Woodstock as well as sites in Canterbury Street and a site near Fruit and Veg City for affordable housing near to the city centre.