Pe Becoming a Mini Jozi

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04 Dec 2007

Property in Port Elizabeth is booming, and as a result the region is taking on such a striking resemblance to Johannesburg that locals are calling it 'little Jhb'.

The first sign was a rash of brand new Tuscan mansions on the hillsides which only a couple of years ago were covered with coastal scrub and some fynbos. Now there is no mistaking that all over the seaside town, Port Elizabeth is booming.

And its former vestigial resemblance to the more identifiable characteristics of Johannesburg has intensified. Never aspiring to the snobby intercontinental gloss of the Cape Peninsula, Port Elizabeth has always presented itself as the working girl of the coast, its plain functionality matching the mood of the people who live there. Now, in prosperity it has taken on the trappings and taste of Jozi, from where, in their droves, the rich people of the golden city are apparently flocking with investment rands. Not known for its accessibility, PE now has something like 11 commercial flights a day landing at its airport as the business traffic heats up.

According to local reports, the investment rush has taken on the scale of a stampede, and the sector receiving the most attention is retail. A town where there's already seems to be a regional shopping centre round almost every corner, Port Elizabeth has, according to local calculations, had its retail property profile boosted by a billion rands' worth of development, either completed, or coming out of the ground. Areas of concentration are the coast at Summerstrand, and the traditionally higher-end suburb of Walmer.

The residential boom has taken place in the former rural periphery of the city, notably in a place near the coast called Lovemore Heights. Close to the quiet seaside hamlets of Schoenmakerskop and Sardinia Bay, Lovemore Heights now presents a bold architectural statement. Some of the city's most expensive houses, being built and changing hands at previously unheard-of millions in Port Elizabeth have adopted the Florentine style that became a favourite of Johannesburg developers. And just to add a little Gautengian authenticity, some of the big city's luminaries such as comedian Barry Hilton and performer and producer Ian von Memerty have made homes there.

In a trend that represents a certain waterfront fever, a little-known area near the harbour, quaintly called Humerail, has also experienced a startling renaissance. A house there recently sold for R13 million. Not bad for a former middle management South African Railways 'camp'.

There are concerns by the city's Regional Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief Odwa Mtati, who is reported this week to have warned that a consumption driven economic boost could not be maintained. He advocated the parallel development of sectors such as tourism, agriculture and manufacturing as being more sustainable.

PE locals view the boom with optimism and some trepidation. Many have done well with the sale of property in what was formerly a pretty stagnant market, and others were clever enough to buy just ahead of the boom. Only a year ago, property forecaster Erwin Rode was reported to be by no means optimistic about PE.

But locals say that Port Elizabeth's boom times have been a long time coming, and there is a history of busts… The minor ups and downs in the past have been largely attributable to the motor industry's fluctuating fortunes, rumours of oil, and the stop-start nature of some of the bigger plans for economic revival. Now, Coega, the deepwater port and industrial development hub 20km east of the city seems to be holding, and has provided over 3 000 jobs so far. Further west along the coast, inland from Jeffreys Bay, near Humansdorp, the air is bullish with the promise of a pebble bed reactor and other upwardly mobile economic indicators. It is there that a Jack Nicklaus course will anchor a big new golf estate and a giant shopping centre is under construction.

It is widely believed that Port Elizabeth, because of its strategic position and natural assets should have made the big time a lot earlier. But, say those that know, it was its 1820 Settler history, its 'Englishness' and large black population that inclined the 'apartheid regime' to withhold development funds and concentrate spending on the more supportive regions to the north. That may have been true, after all PE is a pretty place with stupendous beaches, so what else could have consigned it to a life among the kitchen cinders. Whatever the truth may be, the pumpkin seems somewhat permanently have turned into a mid-sized semi-luxury, locally-produced sedan and, checking out the talent in the malls, some of the ugly sisters appear to have retired. – Neill Hurford

Two of the tuscan 'mansions' that have been built recently in PE.

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  • Readers' Comments
    Have a comment or question about this article? Email us now..

    I have just finished reading your fine article on the economical explosion happening in PE. The article reads as déjà vu.

    My South African business partner and I identified 24 months ago that the explosion was immediately imminent and began investing into the property market. Coega was going to be a standout development and we just couldn't see that the government would let it fail.

    It was not easy at first as the negativity we were faced with from the financial institutions and, in particular, the local valuers was unbelievable. It was only after I flew my bank manager (from the Commonwealth Bank of Australia) into South Africa that the local financial institutions began to sit up and take notice of what we were trying to say.

    Nedbank (in PE) were the first to begin to hear what we had to say and show that they wanted to work with us. I am proud to say that our purchases and developments have been able to be achieved using local (SA) money but there were times when this did not look like it would ever be possible.

    Not long after we acquired our first properties we identified that in 2008/2009 it would become impossible to acquire the services of quality builders, architects, engineers and quantity surveyors and so we set about building our development team. The team that we have established is committed to us and together we have now set about changing the face of PE!

    Next year (2008) our building programme includes:

    1 x 6,000sq m warehouse facility in Deal Party
    1 x 4,500sq m office complex in Newton Park
    1 x 47 luxury apartment complex near St Georges Park
    The budget for these projects is in excess of R300bn.

    So when we (my partner and I) read your article, it fills our hearts with pride and we want to stand on the tallest building in PE and shout out to all our knockers "WE TOLD YOU SO". – Ian MacDonald

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