An artists impression of the skyscraper mooted for construction on land currently occupied by the Durban Country Club and Natal Mounted Rifles near the Durban beachfront. Picture: Metropole Architects

Durban - Durban will in five years be home to the tallest skyscraper in Africa and in the southern hemisphere. That is if the ambitious proposal for a R6 billion project presented to the city’s economic development and planning committee on Wednesday materialises.

At 88 storeys, the building will stand at a height of 370m and will be built at the Durban Country Club and Natal Mounted Rifles (NMR) sites. It is envisioned that the tower, which should be operational in 2021 if construction begins next year, will comprise retail, commercial, parking, hotels and residential facilities.

The grand plan is the latest in a series of catalytic projects announced by the city in recent months, with the Moses Mabhida stadium already in the precinct.

Last year the municipality announced plans to build a R300m soccer academy at the Newmarket Stables and Lifestyle fleamarket. Down the road, the Natal Command site has been earmarked for a R7 billion film studio. A few kilometres up the M4, plans are under way for a R6.1 billion mixed-use development at Virginia airport.

The tower was described by developers as a “iconic and futuristic form of the building ... intended to embody the progressive attitude and front-footed approach of its citizens”.

Metropole Architects directors Nigel Tarboton and Tyrone Reardon, on behalf of the Durban Tower Development Company (DTDC), presented the bold plans to the committee on Wednesday. The plans received thumbs up from the councillors.

Tarboton said the primary aim of the project was to create another “globally recognisable world-class icon for Durban, South Africa, and Africa”.

“The project will serve as a potential catalyst to future large scale development within the Durban inner city, and the greater metropolitan area,” he said.

The project is still at infant stage, with proposals being presented to relevant stakeholders. Consultations with affected communities are expected to begin next week and will continue over the next few months before being presented to the executive committee.

Tarboton said the plans had already been presented to the national treasury department. Discussions, he said, were already under way with clubs.

“Given the proximity to the World Championship Golf Course (Durban Country Club), direct access to the beachfront promenade and being less than 200m from the Moses Mabhida Stadium, the position is extremely favourable,” he said.

DTDC has already met with two South Korean construction companies, Posco E&C and Samsung C&T, to discuss “parameters of collaboration and skills transfer” with local construction companies. Both companies, he said, have expressed willingness to be involved.

Councillors in the committee welcomed and applauded the proposal.

DA councillors, however, queried what the city’s involvement in the project would be. Tarboton explained that the municipality’s only involvement was the setting up of the infrastructure and the leasing of municipal land.

Committee chairwoman Nomvuzo Shabalala said the proposal was “good news”, enough to deflect the committee from the negative publicity that besieged it over the past two weeks.

Concerned NFP councillor Wiseman Mcoyi described the proposal as a “Rolls Royce parked in a tin house”.

Shabalala explained that the project was a “proposed” private initiative.

According to the city’s report, the project would create 7 600 jobs, 5 000 of which would be permanent, over four years. Upon completion the project is expected to contribute millions in rates.

“A further benefit to the CBD would be the reversal of the CBD creep,” said Tarboton. The project would “stimulate finances back into the CBD and filter through into multi facets of the Durban economy including but not limited to hotels, restaurants, stadiums, gymnasiums, public transport and redundant CBD residences”.

“This is one of the best proposals we have ever received. We (Durban) are not an island, we are competing with other major cities in the world. We must contest space in the world. This is going to put us in that particular space,” Shabalala said.

Reaction to the development

Durban Country Club chairman Richard Pemberton moved quickly on Wednesday to allay any fears members might have that the development would encroach on the club’s internationally rated golf course.

He said if the project went ahead it would be to the south of the main buildings.

The development will take up some of our parking and the tennis court area, he said.

And while the club’s board supported the development, according to Pemberton, its go-ahead was dependent on the approval of both the members and the board.

“We believe that the plan is in the interests of greater Durban. It is important that we get the approval of both the board and the membership.

“We have had meetings with the city, and let’s be realistic - if they decide to go ahead without our approval they can expropriate a section of our lease.”

But Pemberton said that was not the “spirit” of the discussions so far between the club and the city.

He added that the fundamental success of the project rested on the condition that the city extend the club’s lease for another 99 years.

“At the moment our lease is until 2052. But both the city and the developers have agreed that the success of the project is dependent on the existence of the golf course,” he said.

Pemberton said while he understood that as the plan went forward more intricate details would be discussed, as he understood it the plan included possible indoor tennis courts and covered parking to compensate for the land they would relinquish to the project.

The iconic tower development is designed to straddle the road on to the historic Natal Mounted Rifles military site, or more accurately, the site of Durban’s original aerodrome.

Scott Bigby, who serves on the Natal Mounted Rifles board of management, said while there had been discussions between the body and the developers nothing had been discussed in detail.

“There isn’t a proposal before us at the moment.

“We need to hear and talk around the proposal that has been presented to the city. As soon as the city gives the project the go-ahead it will be right for the next level of engagement,” he said.

The Natal Mounted Rifles site, which abuts Masabalala Yengwa (NMR) Avenue, is also leased from the city.

The lease expires in 2048.

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The Mercury