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Durban demolishes derelict buildings to unlock new development

Malaysian-based UEM Sunrise is pumping new energy into the multi-billion-rand development at the entrance to SA’s busiest port.

Durban’s multi-billion rand Point Waterfront urban regeneration development, which stalled until a few years back, is set to benefit from the eThekwini Municipality’s moves to demolish derelict buildings around Mahatma Gandhi Road (old Point Road) – the main thoroughfare to the waterfront and harbour entrance.

The municipality on Friday began demolition on the first of four derelict buildings in the area as it looks to reinvigorate its urban renewal efforts and attract significant property investment into the city centre. This comes as the Point Waterfront development gains new impetus with UEM Sunrise Berhad – a major Malaysian-based property developer – now involved in the waterfront mega-project.

A ramshackle double-storey building called Trafalgar Lane, just off Rutherford Street and Mahatma Gandhi Road at the back of South Beach, was the first on the demolition block. The city has been struggling for years to address issues around dilapidated and abandoned buildings, many of which have become drug dens, brothels and crime hotspots.

A ramshackle low-rise building in Rutherford Street near Durban’s Mahatma Gandhi Road (old Point Road) – one of the first buildings to be demolished by the eThekwini Municipality as it looks to clean up the area. Picture: Moneyweb

The municipality has identified around 99 “bad buildings” in the city centre that it says either need to be demolished, placed under judicial administration or overhauled and repurposed. Around 33 of these buildings are located in Mahatma Gandhi Road, which leads to the Point Waterfront, the Ushaka Marine World theme park and Transnet’s planned new Durban Cruise Terminal.

Speaking to Moneyweb, city manager Sipho Nzuza says eThekwini has now secured high court orders to be allowed to demolish the first few derelict and abandoned buildings, adding that he hopes the move will serve as a warning to other property owners to maintain their buildings and abide by city bylaws.

Nzuza says the move to deal with bad buildings, especially around Mahatma Gandhi Road and South Beach, will also spur new developments and investment into the Point Waterfront as well as the broader Durban beachfront. “The Point Waterfront development should not be underplayed and has been earmarked for significant investment with Malaysia’s UEM Sunrise committed to the project.”

Sipho Nzuza, eThekwini City Manager (left) being shown a map of the Mahatma Gandhi Road and Point Waterfront area in the Durban city centre by George Mohlakoana, eThekwini’s head of catalytic project. Picture: Moneyweb

He adds: “These projects together are aimed at turning around the entire precinct from South Beach to the Point Waterfront. The area around Mahatma Gandhi Road adjoins the Point Waterfront development and is a few streets back from the Durban beachfront promenade, so we must address issues in this area to make it clean, walkable and safe. The area needs to become more inviting as it leads to the Point Waterfront and South Beach.”

According to Nzuza, the city is looking to secure both local and international investment which will have spin-offs not just in terms of jobs but boosting tourism to Durban and residents staying in the city centre.

UEM Sunrise, which is listed on the Bursa Malaysia stock exchange in Kuala Lumpur, became joint owners of the Durban Point Waterfront land together with the city a few years back after UEM Sunrise took over Renong – the city’s previous Malaysian partners on the Point development. UEM Sunrise has property development investments in Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and Canada.

Read: Guess where SA’s fastest growing wealth market is? 

Following the opening of Ushaka Marine World in 2004 as a catalytic development to anchor the Point Waterfront urban renewal development, some R4 billion has been invested into the precinct at the entrance to Durban’s harbour. This includes several upmarket apartment blocks and office buildings overlooking waterfront canals linked to Ushaka.

The development however later stalled for years due to opposition to plans around a small craft harbour. UEM Sunrise’s entry a few years back has pumped new energy into the project, with the city investing R300 million currently in extending Durban’s beachfront promenade from Ushaka to the harbour entrance.

Plans for the small craft harbour have been shelved for a much more ambitious R35 billion Dubai-styled development that includes several high-rise towers in a mixed-use precinct comprising residential, hotel, retail and office space.

An artist’s impression of the new Point Waterfront development plan being proposed by Malaysian-based UEM Sunrise on prime land at the entrance to Durban’s harbour. Picture: Supplied

Speaking at the Trafalgar Lane demolition on Friday, Phillip Sithole, deputy city manager for economic development and planning, said in addition to the R300 million being invested in the new Point promenade, a further R300 million has been earmarked by the city for additional bulk infrastructure going into the Point precinct.

“This is in anticipation of the massive developments planned at the Point Waterfront. We are also investing R100 million to fix parts of the existing beachfront promenade which was damaged recently and R40 million into the Rivertown urban renewal project near the International Convention Centre. Altogether, we are currently investing about R1 billion into urban regeneration and infrastructure projects in this part of the city centre,” he said.

Questioned by Moneyweb when the new development plans for the Point will be launched, Nzuza said towards the end of this year once the city completes the 750-metre extension of the promenade to the Point.

“As part of its first phase UEM Sunrise is looking at two high-rise developments – a residential tower and a hotel – in addition to a new 40 000m2 shopping centre that will also link up to Ushaka Marine World. Together the developments within this first phase is valued at around R5 billion and is anticipated to be launched by the end of this year,” he adds.

UEM Sunrise has kept a low profile in SA and could not be reached for comment on the Point Waterfront development this week.  

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