MBDA gets PE’s Central beating again

BY GRAEME LUND - MARCH 17, 2015

Port Elizabeth’s Central suburb has a long and illustrious history dating back to 1799, when Fort Frederick was built. The iconic Market Square and the Feather Market Centre, both located within Central, are among the major assets that testify to this area’s socio-economic importance to the entire Nelson Mandela Bay area.

Unfortunately, like in all major cities, Central and many other historical suburbs in PE went through cycles of boom and decay. But, there is a re-emergence underway and Central is among a few areas that are making a sturdy comeback – and reclaiming their former grandeur, thanks to the numerous public infrastructure projects being undertaken by the Mandela Bay Development Agency (MBDA).

The earliest example of the MBDA’s work in Central is in Govan Mbeki Avenue where the MBDA facilitated the setting up of stalls for street traders and vendors making the street, between Russel Road and the City Hall, more pedestrian-friendly.

This was followed by the upgrading of Parliament Street as well as environmental improvements to the Donkin Reserve and the restoration of the Athenaeum.

“Our vision and hard work are starting to have the ripple effect that we envisaged when we began work in Central,” says MBDA Marketing Director, Luvuyo Bangazi.

The consequence of MBDA’s efforts is the increasing private investment that is taking place. For example, the Gutsche Investment & Management Co has spent many millions purchasing and upgrading the old Port Elizabeth Club in Bird Street into state-of-the-art offices with over 2300 square meters of floor space. This building is now home to a large number of advocates who are conveniently within walking distance of the Port Elizabeth High Court in Central.

“The Bird Street precinct is an excellent area for long-term property investment,” says Phil Gutsche, Chairman of Gutsche Investment & Management Company.

“Provided the Mandela Bay Development Agency continues to function as it has in the past, then it should also continue to contribute to the upliftment of the Central area.”

Bangazi adds; “The MBDA is not just about bricks and mortar. We want to encourage arts and culture too. It is a strong conviction that is coupled with the need to infuse ‘pre-94 heritage’ with ‘post-94 heritage’ in creating balance to facilitate the formation of an inclusive society in Nelson Mandela Bay.”

This cultural focus is clearly visible with the restoration of the Athenaeum and Little Theatre on Belmont Terrace, the beautification of the Donkin Reserve and the magnificent Route 67 with its outstanding sculptures by the region’s top artists.

A direct consequence of the MBDA’s arty vision has been the Denton Properties investment around the historic Donkin Street terrace houses. Marketed as the Donkin Creative Quarter, this development, which is not yet complete, is still very attractive. The historic buildings have been restored to their former magnificence but have altogether modern features on the inside.

Marios van Dongen of the Bowman Property Group, who are the marketing and leasing agents for this development, says; “We are looking for tenants who are in the creative industry – architects, photographers, advertising agencies and so forth. In redeveloping these houses we have made sure that there is ample parking for business purposes and that we create an attractive business precinct that will secure the tenants that we want.”

Several respectable businesses have operated in Central for many years and have watched the suburb being transformed. Pagdens, one of the city’s top law firms, has been at 18 Castle Hill since August 1989. Despite Central’s deterioration in the ‘90’s, Pagdens chose to remain in the area.

“Property owners that allowed their buildings to become derelict and failed to keep them in a decent state of repair, had a negative effect on those property owners, like ourselves, who were investing in their properties,” Brett Weddle, a Director at Pagdens, says.

“Our building is in close proximity to the High Court, which is convenient for us and was the main reason for us remaining in the area. We are pleased to note that recently, other property owners, who have also chosen to remain in the area, have upgraded and renovated their buildings and that new property investors have entered Central and are renovating their new acquisitions.”

“Three years ago almost every second building in Bird Street was derelict. Thanks to the MBDA and Gutsche Investment & Management Company’s expenditure, the street has seen a flurry of renovation. In fact, Bird Street is looking smarter than ever,” says Graeme Lund, owner of Ricochet Publishing, whose offices are located next to the Port Elizabeth Club. 

 

Photo Caption: MBDA Marketing Director, Luvuyo Bangazi.