Rebuilding Urbanism

Rebuilding Urbanism

An insider’s look at Cape Town’s latest development

“We are confident in the long-term future of South Africa and, in particular, Cape Town” says James Wilson, CEO of Amdec Developments. At the recent unveiling of the R10 billion Harbour Arch development, to be situated at the southern entry-point of the Mother City, Wilson shares his thoughts on the future of property in South Africa.

Called “New Urbanism”, the development’s approach is centred around the concept of enabling residents to live, work, and play in the same area. “It’s a focus on a pedestrian-friendly lifestyle, where you can park your car in the basement parking bay and leave it there,” explains Wilson.

Amdec was founded 28 years ago by James Wilson and his father, John. Originally located in a renovated double garage in Cape Town, Amdec has grown into one of the largest development firms in the country. Initially, Wilson explains, they focused on buying single properties, renovating, and selling for a profit. This morphed into developing larger scale apartment complexes, and eventually the development of office blocks – most notably Steenberg Office Park. In 2005, Amdec purchased a 50% stake in Melrose Arch. While many locals ridiculed the decision, the risk paid off. Today, the precinct stands as a living and growing monument for how urban developments can function.

Melrose Arch, Wilson states, is the inspiration for Harbour Arch: “This new development encapsulates everything that’s great about Melrose Arch.” A decade-long project, Harbour Arch will eventually consist of six towers. The first, with construction due to commence early 2018, will cost approximately R1.5 billion. According to estimates, the construction project will create 2,500 jobs for locals – jobs that will effectively roll over from one project to the next, as each tower is completed. Wilson also explains that approximately 250 retail and hospitality jobs will be created through the development’s several stores, restaurants, coffee shops, and bars. There will also be two Marriott hotels, creating approximately 350 permanent employment opportunities.

“I’ve been living in Cape Town since moving here from the UK more than 30 years ago – and am delighted to be bringing this development to a city that still excites me every time I return home,” states Wilson. It’s clear that he has a passion not just for Cape Town, but for South African development as a whole. When asked about the need for affordable housing, especially in a city that has become largely unaffordable to those who work there, Wilson is clear: “We’ve had success developing affordable housing in the past, where we made 1,500 apartments available in End Street, Doornfontein surrounds, Johannesburg. These were aimed at previously disadvantaged people who needed a safe and secure home.” The development consists of three residential buildings, convenience shooting and the upgrading of an adjoining park. The company has since sold the development to a listed fund, but Wilson states that: “we are always looking for opportunities to do it again.”

Amdec is also the driving force behind legendary names such as Val de Vie and Pearl Valley in the Cape Winelands, and Evergreen Lifestyles. A leading name in retirement estates, Evergreen Lifestyles has approximately 3,000 homes in planning or under construction across the country. Wilson explains that they’re planning to have 10,000 homes built over the next few years in Val de Vie and Pearl Valley, taking advantage of the breathtaking scenery and world-class amenities.

The development of Harbour Arch is a clear product of Wilson’s vision for the future of South African cities. “Globally, people live and work in the same place, close to the CBD. South Africa is behind in this regard.” Wilson continues to explain that the traditional real estate model, one made up of suburbs and commutes by either road or rail to the CBD, is outdated. Cape Town is leading the way in the field, with several rejuvenation and redevelopment projects taking place over the past few decades, each luring the workforce out of suburbia. “What started out as young professionals looking to live closer to work, has morphed into young families looking to start their lives in the city…and why wouldn’t they?”

With easy access to amenities such as restaurants, parks, and shopping centres, cities have become more attractive of late. The lack of lengthy commutes have only added to the appeal, especially in large cities where traffic congestion has reached record levels.

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