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Edison Property Group – the time for integrated design

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Edison Property Group – the time for integrated design

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Mixed-use development in South Africa started gathering momentum in the late 1990s. It aimed to re-connect people with their workplaces, homes, shops and leisure activities, especially as road congestion continued to increase in our major cities.

With the rise of industrialisation in late 19th-century South Africa and the introduction of governmental zoning regulations, the urban design of human settlements evolved from traditional mixed-use patterns to disconnected residential and commercial spaces.

In recent years it has become clear that this mode of development can divide communities and often discourages collaborative growth, so trends in urban development indicate a move back towards a more integrated design model. Enter modern mixed-use development, which can provide numerous socio-economic benefits and narrow the divide between people and their needs.

Mixed-use urban design offers users a blend of retail, restaurants, offices and multi-generational housing and hotels, while preserving traditional “village” centres. Its benefits include greater housing diversity and investment opportunities, compact development, greater community spirit, and pedestrian and bicycle-friendly environments – the starter kit for a “smart city” of the future.

Edison Property Group (EPG), a subsidiary of South Africa’s largest black-owned power company, the Edison Corporation, is a big player in KwaZulu-Natal, and the force behind mutiple casinos and shopping malls across the country. But their magnum opus is  Oceans Umhlanga – a mega mixed-use development project in collaboration with Ducatus Property Group.

“With the current rate of development in KwaZulu-Natal, I believe the province will be the fastest-growing economy in South Africa within the next three years,” says EPG chairman and founder, Vivian Reddy.

Having carried out trend analysis abroad, EPG decided to use the 231 000 mof prime land they had acquired in the heart of uMhlanga for a mixed-use development offering an affluent blend of retail, hotel and residential components. “Oceans Umhlanga is an exclusive offering which will cater to the area’s dollar millionaires. It’s an accumulation of all our years of experience in the property development game, within the residential, retail, commercial and casino environments.”

The development will cost  R 3.8 billion  to develop and is expected to open its doors in 2018. Edison Property Group  foresees approximately 100 000 new homes being built in the vicinity over the next three years, and Oceans Umhlanga will be perfectly positioned to service the area.

“The idea for this type of mixed-use development came from our market research, which revealed that residential developments linked to a hotel or mall were having great success overseas.”

Having weighed their options for potential candidates, EPG finally selected Radisson as the hotel operator for the prestigious Oceans Umhlanga development.

“Radisson has the biggest footprint of any hotel group in Africa. A large proportion of seasonal visitors to uMhlanga come from the continent, where the Radisson brand is recognised and highly regarded.”

Of the retail target market at Oceans Umhlanga, Vivian says, “Our experience is that the wealthy demographic aren’t looking for massive malls with every possible offering. Instead they want smaller, lavish spaces where they can shop for the top international brands.

“When we approached these luxury brands to offer retail space in our mall, many told us they had been actively looking to move into Durban, but hadn’t found a mall exclusive enough − until Oceans Umhlanga, of course.”

Reddy enthusiastically adds:  “Amongst the most defining attributes of our Oceans project is its quintessential location. uMhlanga is arguably the Beverly Hills of South Africa, certainly of KwaZulu-Natal. Many flattering descriptions define it – playground of the rich and famous; the most expensive real estate in the province; KwaZulu-Natal’s Paradise Lost; the ultimate holiday destination precinct, peppered with pristine beaches and  bathed by sunshine almost all the year around. The much-admired uMhlanga precinct is the perfect backdrop to the province’s greatest mixed-use development of Oceans”. It is perhaps this synergy between the ‘paradise’ location and the opulence of the Oceans development that has contributed to over 90% of the apartment units already being sold.The Radisson Blu Hotel is almost the perfect complementing leisure partner –  comprising 209 rooms, 40 long-term rental apartments and two penthouses, plus a state-of-the-art 800-seater conferencing facility.

According to Vivian, the conferencing facility will offer something unique. Its classic decor will exude old-world charm and feature bespoke fittings like crystal chandeliers.

Recipe for success?

Explaining EPG’s success in their development ventures in KwaZulu-Natal, Vivian says, “We have a well-managed, proactive provincial government, which is very conducive to business.” He also attributes their success to the inclusive way in which EPG brings contractors into projects as integral members of the team.

“Too often I’ve seen a huge divide between developers and contractors, which causes problems. Encouraging communication and promoting an open-door policy helps to ensure that everyone shares the same objectives.”

But what Vivian believes to be the “X Factor” behind the multiple accolades which EPG has achieved thus far, is his close collaboration with the design team.

“The way you create award-winning designs, and thereby award-winning experiences for your customer,  is by sitting in on meetings with your designers. I spend hours and hours with them, looking at things from every possible angle and tweaking them until we achieve perfection. We are currently on the 65th revision of our drawing plans for Oceans Umhlanga, and there will be more still to come.” It is therefore little wonder that the Oceans project is the  only project in the country that has bagged the coveted International Award for the Best Mixed-Use Development Architecture in Africa, and has now been nominated for the World’s Best Mixed-Use Architecture Award.

The increasing contribution of mixed-use developments to South Africa’s economy is set to attract even further growth in real estate, increasing private investment and property values. The benefits of these integrated, walkable built environments extend far beyond user convenience, and positively permeate the socio-economic fabric of communities.

The Developer Journal is available online and in print.

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