Ponte: revival of a Joburg icon

9 November 2007

Inner city rejuvenation continues to gather pace in South Africa’s commercial capital. Property developers are refurbishing Johannesburg’s landmark 54-floor Ponte building and are offering fully furnished flats for sale to upper-middle class residents.

In an effort to sell the first 311 flats, Ponte City, as it has been renamed, offers potential owners one of six different styles of finish, including “glam rock, future slick, Moroccan delight, global fusion, Zen-like and old money”.

About 300 people attended the first show day on 28 October. Those attending were taken to the 32nd floor, where flats with all six styles of finish were on display. Sixty percent of the potential buyers said they were investors who planned to rent out their properties, while the rest said they would live in the flats they bought.

“We got just over 80% sell on the first day,” enthused Setshwano Rametse, director at Space Marketing and Investments, who were responsible for the sale.

Ponte, built in 1975 as a huge hollow cylinder, has always been a furnished rental block, with 470 flats. Soaring to 173 metres, or 54 floors, with the best views in town, it’s integral to Joburg’s skyline, more so at night with its flashing Vodacom advertisement bouncing off the top floors.

The building has a chequered history: when it initially opened it was one of the city’s most desirable places to live in, but by the late 1980s it had degenerated into a haven for criminals and druglords.

Such was its reputation that in 1998 a proposal – soon rejected – that it be turned into a prison, was aired. From 2001 its act was cleaned up and a new security system chased out the criminals.

But what the building really needed was a huge dose of renovation.

The developers, Nour Addine Ayyoub and David Selvan, want to return Ponte to its former glory as an iconic building, says Rametse. And buyers are paying big money to be part of that former glory – the developers, who won’t disclose what they paid for the building, are putting R100-million into the revamp and are selling the flats for R400 000 to R938 000, or R12 000 a square metre.

In comparison, flats in The Refinery, a factory building in Milpark converted into spacious, trendy dwellings, are selling for about R6 000 a square metre.

To cater for tenants already occupying the building, developers negotiated with landlords in the area to accommodate those tenants at the same rentals they had been paying while living in Ponte. Tenants were given up to four months to move, with 12 floors already vacated, and a further seven are to be cleared by the end of November.

In a boost for the developers, the Johannesburg city council also announced plans to spend some R170-million in Berea and surrounding Hillbrow and Yeoville to revamp pavements, storm water drains and lighting, and to put street furniture in place.

Extreme makeover
Rametse was responsible for coming up with the different lifestyle categories and decor, mostly going straight to manufacturers and ordering in bulk. She said it was fun, though, and it shows: from slick red and orange sofas and chairs, granite table tops and plasma-screen TVs, to floral wing-backed chairs set against grey and white walls, the designs are set to maximise sales, which they appear to have done.

Although compact and designed for uncluttered living, the bachelor, one-, two- and three-bedroom flats are stylish, with wood-floor finishes and fashionable lighting, enhanced by that magnificent view.

Rametse said that floors 11 to 34 were presently being renovated, and are scheduled for occupation by July 2008. The flats will be totally made over, with entirely new bathrooms and kitchens being installed, along with new wooden floors and light fixtures, while the sliding chrome windows have been retained. In some cases, walls have been broken down to turn three-bedroom flats into two-bedroom units with two bathrooms.

She added that the flats were being sold fully furnished, including a fridge, stove, washing machine or dishwasher, because the developers were “keen to do things differently” and enable young people to enter the property market without having to worry about furnishing their new homes.

“You’d be amazed how many people are keen on it. It makes the sale more marketable and exciting,” she said.

The bachelor flats, at 29 square metres, were going for R410 000, 38-square metre one-bedroom flats for R528 000, 52-square metre two-bedroom flats from R728 000 and 68-square metre three-bedroom flats for R938 000.

The original architect, Rodney Grosskopff, initially developed one floor to house assorted shops, but it never worked because the space was subdivided too finely in an effort to recoup more rent. Now the idea will be ramped up to go with the building’s more stylish image.

There will be a restaurant, a coffee shop, a DVD shop, spa and gym, and a large entrance piazza, as children’s playground plus a climbing wall. The developers have also approached supermarket groups Woolworths and Spar to take up space in the building.

Ponte, just 15 minutes from the OR Tambo International Airport, will feature a bus stop catering for the proposed Bus Rapid Transit system on its doorstep. And, of course, for those working in the Johannesburg inner city it’s almost within walking distance, while theatres like the Market and the Civic are within five kilometres.

“It will be a destination,” Rametse said.

Source: City of Johannesburg