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THE EVOLUTION OF THE EAST CITY: THE PRECINCT OF POSSIBILITIES

THE EVOLUTION OF THE EAST CITY: THE PRECINCT OF POSSIBILITIES

25 Jun 2018 Tags: East City Charly’s Bakery Steven Harris Just Like Papa precinct 4 The Elect

As a result of years of planning and foresight, resulting in recent upgrades and new developments, the East City is getting a new lease on life and is poised to realise its full potential as these establishments open their doors. In the winter 2018 issue of City Views, we explore the evolution of the East City and also spoke to some role players who have been instrumental in its evolution.

According to Carola Koblitz, Cape Town Central City Improvement District (CCID) Communications manager and editor of The State of Cape Town Central City Report – an annual publication that provides insights into the economic climate of the Cape Town CBD – the East City can best be described as: “A precinct of possibilities that’s growing by leaps and bounds.”

“At present,” says Carola, “there is a total of R23.954 billion worth of development on the go across the entire CCID footprint, including all the buildings that opened their doors in 2017, plus those currently under construction or proposed and set to begin construction before 2020. Of this, R1.527 billion is planned for the East City area alone, also known to the CCID as Precinct 4.”

A year ago, the 2016 edition of The State of Cape Town Central City Report predicted that the East City area would see its full potential realised into the very near future. Just one year later, it is now apparent that this prediction is bearing very ripe fruit.

“In the past 12 months alone,” notes Carola “we’ve seen phenomenal growth with many new developments and refurbishments in the area, and can confidently say that the investment value of East City is rising. Already, various economic sectors are represented in Precinct 4 and as this geographic area develops further, all of this can only bode well for all Central City stakeholders who live, work, stay or play downtown.

“Whereas previously this precinct had a large number of fairly transient rental properties, residential blocks here are now experiencing increasing numbers of owner-occupiers, including many young professionals seeking the downtown lifestyle.

“The nighttime and afterhours economy is also starting to pick up significantly, with a number of new venues opening within the past 12 to 18 months. Plus, there has been an increasing demand over the past year for commercial and retail space, which is still the most economical in the CBD.”

Besides the large residential component in the East City, the area has a large number of government departments with high numbers of staff and daily users, as well as several educational institutes with large volumes of students. However, until recently, there were very few retail establishments catering to the many and varied needs of this precinct’s different communities. Now, properties that for many years have been no more than warehouses and storage facilities are turning into trendy shops, office complexes and co-working spaces, and entertainment venues, with many more retailers expected to open their doors as soon as refurbishments and construction have been completed.

Some of the new businesses that have already made the East City their home in recent months include the following:  Kamili Coffee (29 Shortmarket & Long streets), Dunkin’ Donuts (Corner Plein & Spin streets), Kleinsky’s Delicatessen (32 Parliament Street), Lekker Vegan (Corner of Harrington & Barrack streets), Afros Chicken Shop (4 Church Square), Bootlegger Café & Grill (50 Harrington Street), Manga (The Piazza on Church Square, Parliament Street), SurfaRosa (61 Harrington Street), RocoMamas (29 Buitenkant Street) and The Electric (48 Canterbury Street).

One of the new and exciting retailers in Precinct 4 is Just Like Papa, located at 73 Harrington. Its co-founder, Davide Locatelli-Rossi says: “Finding the perfect location and a space that would allow us to create a destination that’s all about quality outdoor equipment and experiences was important to me and my business partner, Thomas [Ferreira]. And that’s exactly what the East City offered us.

“I’d say we found a sleepy area that’s ready to make the jump and this allowed us to do what we had in mind without compromising. We don’t just sell ‘things’; this is an events space and we also have a bar area with people coming in and out. Overall, the vibe in the East City is amazing and the clientele is different because each business offers something unique and there’s a sense of community.”

Manager of Nude Foods (located at 5 Constitution Street), Stacey Cyrus, shares similar sentiments adding: “We’re definitely in a great area that’s up and coming and we’re getting busier.” Nude Foods opened its doors in December 2017 and has been dubbed Cape Town’s first-ever plastic-free grocer.

The evolution of the CBD’s East City also speaks to resilience and perhaps this is precisely what makes the current boom even more special; particularly considering that this precinct appeared to stagnate for a while following the bursting of the residential property bubble around 2008.

CCID precinct manager, Mmiselo Ntsime, who has been managing Precinct 4 for ten years, notes: “The East City is going through a major facelift.

“I believe, for a long time, many people considered the East City unappealing; they overlooked it and didn’t fi nd it exciting, especially since it’s also traditionally been characterised by big spaces – from the Grand Parade to its wide streets and large government properties – but that’s all changing. Now it’s an up-and-coming area and suddenly everyone is taking note. It’s thrilling to see the transformation and how developers have been able to come up with creative solutions to improving an area that has a lot of heritage and historical buildings.”

While it is wonderful to see increasing residents and the flurry of new and exciting retailers in the East City, Mmiselo also credits old favourites for adding value into the area and seeing its potential in the first place, such as the famous Charly’s Bakery (38 Canterbury Street), Woodheads (29 Caledon Street), New York Bagels (much loved for its traditional hand-made bagels, located at 44 Harrington Street), as well as the renowned coffee shops Haas (19 Buitenkant Street) and Truth (36 Buitenkant Street), the latter of which was voted the world’s best coffee shop by The Daily Telegraph two years in a row. In addition, the Department of Home Affairs (56 Barrack Street), Cape Town Central Police Station (28 Buitenkant Street), The Fugard Theatre (corner Caledon & Lower Buitenkant streets), a number of diverse religious establishments and a communal work hub at 75 Harrington Street are also located in the East City – all venues that speak to Precinct 4 being an eclectic area that’s on the up and up.

According to Jacqui Biess, owner of Charly’s Bakery (a concept that has been around since 1989), when her family bought their dream Victorian two-storey building at 38 Canterbury Street in East City, they knew they had finally found a home in which they could let their imaginations run wild.

“When we started, things were moving slowly, and people were scared to come here. Fast forward to a few years later and it’s wonderful to see what’s happening. There are new exciting businesses bringing about the power of choice to consumers; the area has a raw energy and is growing. It also shows that if you make your product amazing, people will come to find you.”

Jacqui also credits the recent and very trendy Harrington House redevelopment in the East City for adding new vibrancy to the area. The five-story office block was recently upgraded and houses tenants in the design, fashion and creative industries. Jacqui says having hundreds of employees who work in that building alone coming into the area daily has increased foot traffic and has presented businesses with an opportunity to cater to these individuals.

Another person who has also been instrumental in the evolution of the East City is Steven Harris, founder of The Bank, brother to Richard Harris of Woodheads, and one of the developers of the bustling coworking hub at 75 Harrington Street.

Says Steven: “This is an interesting time of change. I remember seven years ago, there was only one coffee shop, Charly’s Bakery, and now there are about 20 coffee shops in the East City and there are lively clubs, bars, eateries and retailers. If you just go outside for a few minutes and look at what’s happening in Harrington Street, you’ll see people riding their bicycles, young people skating and some walking – this was unheard of years ago. Now, this is a space people want to go to.”

When asked what makes East City special, Steven says it’s what he’d like to call “the four Cs”: community, coffee, co-working and collaboration. He adds: “I believe the East City is a space that links people and is connected to other areas; it’s inclusive and there’s diversity, and that’s certainly what we strive to do at 75 Harrington Street. Overall, there are pockets of positivity, a healthy ecosystem and it’s more than just profit. The foundations for the area to blossom even more are there – it’s always a work in progress.”

Images by The Electric (opening image) and Scott Arendse (Just Like Papa and Charly’s Bakery)