Propertuity: Bringing Durban’s grande dames back to life

Propertuity: Bringing Durban's grande dames back to life

With land at a premium and in short supply wherever in South Africa you may be, property developers are now steering towards repurposing existing buildings rather than starting from scratch. In most cases, these buildings are found in some of the more unlikely parts of the country, in areas where you wouldn’t dream of living, let alone living comfortably.

Cue Jonathan Liebmann and his companynamed Propertuity, who are most famous for having created the cultural site Arts on Main, built from five consolidated warehouses, on the upper east side of Johannesburg. Propertuity acquired the premises in 2008 and began redeveloping the building with huge factory-style windows, large open spaces, plenty of natural light and original raw brickwork on the façade. The result was a truly industrial look and the perfect location to house artists’ studios, gallery spaces, and creative office hubs that would later expand into the famous Maboneng Precinct where the company is headquartered.

Today, the one square kilometre Maboneng Precinct has become a living space for urbanists, with office, retail and residential space, as well as a cinema, theatre and restaurants. The second phase of the development is the residential aspect, and the area is already at 98 percent capacity, offering an affordable and trendy living space for people clearing between R 12 000 and R 30 000 each month. Currently the rental rates are between R 2 800 and R 12 000 per month, with the bulk of the units for rent at R 4 500 per month.

As Propertuity’s first development project, its success certainly put Liebmann and his team on the property development map and propelled the company towards redeveloping even more dilapidated industrial and office areas further afield.

While all the Maboneng buildings account for a third of Propertuity’s assets, in the last nine years the company has also secured ownership of 70 other properties in Johannesburg and Durban.

In Durban, one of the company’s first projects was Pixley House, which pays homage to its namesake, Dr Pixley Seme, and is situated on Dr Pixley KaSeme Street in central Durban. Dr Pixley Seme was the founder and president of what is now known as the African National Congress (ANC), and his home was inspired by Durban’s iconic Art Deco architectural movement.

Later renamed Prefcor House, it became the head office for the Game department store, who still feature as the anchor tenant on the ground floor of the building, which has been remodelled to include 98 apartments measuring between 29 and 75m².

Despite not having any parking options, Pixley House is fully leased and showed Luke Maurel, General Manager of Propertuity Durban, that there was an impatient demand for affordable housing that had good architecture and good design and was well built and well maintained. Focus soon fell squarely on Rivertown.

Located just on the edge of the CBD, between the Durban International Convention Centre and the beachfront, the previous motor town has several low-rise industrial buildings and derives its name from the canal that runs through it. Propertuity have acquired R 140 million’s worth of property in the area, some independently and others through partnerships, and the location allows them to create a beach city living experience for people who want to be in the city of Durban and not in the remote and stuffy suburbs.

Included in the acquisition are four warehouses, all privately owned and with existing tenants, which Maurel and his team hope to transform into a 10-storey building called Rivertown Rising. Upon completion, Rivertown Rising will have 316 studios, one- and two-bedroomed apartments measuring from 23 square metres and all available as part of a rental scheme. While the aim is not to copy and paste the Maboneng model to Durban per se, there will be familiar elements in the 10-year plan to create a safe, friendly and walkable neighbourhood that has less traffic and more green spaces in the form of vertical wall gardens. (The city has also committed funds to improve the landscaping in the public areas and to reduce the traffic speed on the surrounding roads.)

Please note that the sectional title scheme will only be launched in the future; it isn’t on the market yet. Starting prices are at just under R 400 000, making Propertuity’s market a substantially large one, and the demand is definitely there. Aimed at those young professionals and bachelors earning between R 12 000 and R 22 000 per month, it certainly is ripe and prime for the first-time buyer market, although many clients are local investors who see value in recapitalising in their city.

Expect decent but not lavish finishes, minimal design with an industrial type of finish that is synonymous with the Propertuity brand, plenty of exposed brick, a small retail section, and a great creative vibe.

Repurpose, recycle, reuse – whatever you want to call it, we are constantly encouraged to do more of it in our daily lives, and Propertuity is taking the lead with housing. In a society where the cost of living continues to rise and the number of first-time homeowners continues to fall, their vision to become a leader in urban renewal and increase the development and regeneration footprint of five cities by 2020 is by no means unachievable. If anything, it is giving the city of Durban something to be proud of and putting them on the map.


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