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The hype surrounding the multibillion-rand Point area upgrade appears to have fallen flat, with business and property owners complaining that a development slowdown has left the elite Durban Waterfront precinct surrounded by decay.
Tourists renting upmarket flats at the Waterfront have expressed concern at the seemingly “unsafe” areas in Mahatma Gandhi (Point) Road they have to travel through to get there, while some business owners say they have not had the returns expected by such a bustling hub.
International economics affecting banks’ lending to developers, the legal delay concerning the small-craft harbour development, and the city’s alleged slowdown in ensuring buildings in Mahatma Gandhi Road conform to the high standards of its new surrounds, are reasons cited for the “tale of two cities” scene which greets visitors.
Crumbling, abandoned buildings juxtaposed with the stylish and new is not a rare sight, while rundown action bars and liquor stores in seedy-looking building strips line the road leading to the multibillion rand precinct.
Shawn Thompson, the CEO of Ushaka, said momentum appeared to have been lost with the development, and although some of this was owing to the legal delay with the small-craft harbour, he believed other things could be done.
“Something needs to be done about cleaning up the buildings, as this affects the access to the Point area and uShaka. About 700m of Mahatma Gandhi Road is very unsavoury.”
A suggestion by Thompson – which he also made to former city manager Mike Sutcliffe – was to turn Shepstone Road, which runs parallel to Mahatma Gandhi Road, into a two-way, allowing people to avoid that road completely.
Neil Sungeeth, the manager at Durban Point Waterfront Properties, is new to the area – but he has already expressed concern.
“The area you have to drive through to get to the Point precinct and uShaka is quite dilapidated. It is an eyesore as you travel down Mahatma Gandhi Road… The buildings need to either be refurbished or taken down completely.”
Sungeeth also highlighted a perception that the area felt unsafe.
“There is a feeling that it is not really safe to walk around outside the Point precinct, that there is an element of crime. And even if this is not so, crime should not be encouraged by having the buildings as they are. Development is happening very, very slowly.”
He added that guests who rented apartments from him during the Indaba had expressed their disbelief that such an upmarket area such as the Waterfront existed so close to Mahatma Gandhi Road.
“They were worried driving through it,” he said.
Another property rental agent concurred – her clients felt the same way when first entering the area.
However, Craig Murphy, the manager at Point Waterfront Properties, did not believe the state of Mahatma Gandhi Road was an area of concern. Rather, the lack of development in the Point Waterfront area itself was a problem.
“What is halting the development is the delay of the small-craft harbour and the world economy. Banks are not lending money to developers. Yes, Mahatma Gandhi Road does need to be upgraded, and it is true there is a bit of squalor in the area, but it is only a short distance.”
Murphy wanted to see the municipality acting more aggressively in upgrading those buildings.
Yves Accolla, the owner of the La Vida nightclub opposite uShaka, complained he was not seeing any returns as a property owner. The Point upgrade was not the success stakeholders had hoped for, and his building neighbouring the nightclub could not even attract a tenant. “There is no use having this prime property if I can’t even get a tenant.”
In a combined comment, Neels Brink, head of the Durban Point Development Company and MD of Laurusco Developments, and Soobs Moonsammy, head of Development Planning, Environment and Management at the eThekwini municipality, acknowledged the slowdown.