THE ARCH – A SIGN OF THE TIMES
Food is the new rock and roll and what’s needed is an iconic platform that will not only enable some of Durban’s best chefs to showcase their original flavours but also a stage that will allow both locals and visitors to enjoy live performances and appreciate local art.
That may seem to be an unusual vision for what is now the tallest glass and mental clad building on the Umhlanga Ridge. It’s larger and more sophisticated than its many corporate neighbours and perfectly fitted to the opulent environment.
But, according to Marc Rosenberg, one of the directors at private equity fund, Multiply Group, which has been instrumental in developing the Arch as well as positioning what is certain to become a landmark, there was always the intention of setting the R1.3 billion project apart from others.
“This opportunity came to us quite out of the blue. Someone defaulted on the land a few years ago. Our partner, Chris du Toit, brought the opportunity to us and we couldn’t say no to it. Looking at the site, we knew it was an important piece of real estate … and felt we had a responsibility to deliver a product that was not only aesthetically pleasing but makes a positive impact and contribution to the city and people of Durban,” he says.
CREATING THE DREAM
Rosenberg says that, while conceptualizing the development, the business partners looked for inspiration across the world. Dallas Fortworth was one of their first stops simply because the city is very similar to Durban with rolling fields of agriculture offset by commercial nodes, new cities and residential spaces.
We realised it was super important for us to do something that was going to be very impactful here… We couldn’t make an investment, build a building and leave. When you look at that view, you realise it has been a privilege for us to be able to utilize this piece of real estate.”
Overall, it was designed using a “live work play model” that took people’s growing need for convenience and good location into account. It includes not only the commercial and retail spaces and the hotel but also a residential tower that includes 30 New York style lofts, 162 two, three or four bed apartments and 25 penthouse suites.
That has sold out with some units only now making their way back on to the market – suggesting that the development offered value to would-be investors.
The roof of this tower will also be home to an exclusive members’ club.
According to Rosenberg, the developers’ research revealed that, from a business. cultural and young entrepreneurs’ perspective, Durbanites were not collaborating or networking as much as they needed to.
We wanted to encourage them to do this and a member’s club is one such space – for leaders who are driven to change their worlds. We want to create an uplifting and positive narrative for our city,” he explains.
While some of the more cynical might label The Arch as ostentatious and the marketing hype as a little OTT, Rosenberg says that the four-year development process was, in fact, not only an interesting collaboration with business partners, professionals and ‘working men and women’ but also a great journey and very humbling experience.
Actually delivering this 45 000 sq/m development was no easy task – especially given the delays created by the Covid-19 lockdown which brought work on the construction site to a halt and meant that formal launch dates had to be pushed out.
This week marked the so-called soft launch – an opportunity for the public to experience what is behind the giant glass Arch that has been raising eyebrows for some time.
It also provided an opportunity for MEC for Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs, Nomusa Dube-Ncube, to visit the already operational commercial space which includes five floors of fully tenanted prime office space, the enticing retail segment and the soon to be opened Hilton Garden Inn.
A HOTEL OF FIRSTS
While the Hilton brand has been in South Africa for some time, this is the first of the multinational hotel group’s four-star Garden Inns on local soil. It is also the country’s first smart hotel.
As Rosenberg explains, guests check in using their mobile phones. Your mobile phone then becomes your room key as well as your television and air conditioning remote. In short, it is perfect for the post Covid world and the hotel operators have invested a lot of time, money and effort into the technology.
Hilton, already right next to Durban’s ICC, will also be operating a still to be completed conferencing space that is well suited to small to medium sized businesses and events.
Again this is a perfect match to the up and coming aspirational entrepreneurs that will and are already at the ‘hot desks’ or co-work spaces within the commercial segment of The Arch.
“Again, it’s all about being connected. What we tried to do is target smaller businesses, young entrepreneurs, guys who can’t afford the overhead of a big office. They can rent a desk here. It becomes your business address. We were looking to create spaces for people to collaborate and network and use facilities that would only be available if they worked for a big corporate,” he said.
NEW AGE RETAIL
Rosenberg says this was created with the three pillars of people, brands and experience in mind. “I feel that everyone can relate to the fact that, when go somewhere, you may have a nice meal but it is the experience that you walk away with that will leave you fulfilled. So, all the spaces that we have built relate to the experiential, of getting out of our homes which is a privilege these days.”
For Rosenberg, this is the most exciting aspect of The Arch. While it is anchored by the high tech flagship SMG dealership that is filled with the most aspirational of vehicles, it also reflects an almost rebellious streak and a design ethic that features everything from high end vintage to street art.
“A few years ago, we could have decided to close in the development and created another mall. But we did our research into the retail market and discovered that there were about 280 eateries in the area As a consumer, you lack brand loyalty if you are spoilt for choice. We don’t destination shop anymore and we felt Durban didn’t have ability to showcase itself – our authenticity, our people, our culture, our flavours and we wanted to do something.
It was difficult in the early days to go to the bank and tell them that there would be no Woolworths or Spar or H&M. They wanted all of those. But we believe firmly in backing people. We felt people were fundamental to the success of our economy. When you look around our city, there are unbelievable men and women and great businesses and we’ve found them!”
The cobbled high street, which leads into an outdoor space called The Yard is fully tenanted with some businesses open and others putting the finishing touches to their carefully thought out stores.
“They are all family run owner operated businesses. That’s the difference between big shops and these more intimate authentic retail stores. We have also gone for an outdoor feel. We didn’t want a mall feel with glass display units, so we created cobble streets to replicate older cities in Europe which add so much character. We set out to create a vibey high street area but with our SA roots firmly in place.”
The architects focused on texture and form, combining aluminium, glass, brick and wooden finishes and went from glitzy chandeliers to hard core graffiti above industrial style metal stairways in what is probably the most appealing space in The Arch – its legacy food court.
Instead of courting rich restaurateurs, they approached those who were prepared to offer a more innovative approach to local cuisine.
We handpicked some of the best chefs and independent operators in our city who may not have the means and capability to invest in their own operations. We’ve invested in it for them. They can use our platform to grow their own businesses. We want to be a stepping stone to greater things to come for them,” he explains.
The great thing about this model, he adds, is that, when you have an owner who is making the hamburgers, sushi or salad, there’s a huge commitment to quality which is sometimes diluted by bigger brands.
In addition to the food court – with its Backyard rooftop bar that allows you to truly enjoy the magnificent view – the Yard is also home to some great green landscaping and a big screen which will showcase sporting events, movies and even fashion.
The Arch will also host local performers, musicians and comedians.
The stores and food court will display the work of local artists. Despite not being an art connoisseur, Rosenberg says he nevertheless feels there is a need to reverse the existing business model. “Lots of artists say that they get just 10 percent of the profits with the rest going to galleries and others. We’re flipping this on its head. 90 percent will go to the artist and 10 percent to a foundation which will support local artists. It has been very disappointing for us to see wonderful talent come out of our province then showcase their work in New York galleries. We want to try and bring this back to our city.”
BUYING INTO THE DREAM
Time will tell whether or not The Arch is going to be all it has set out to become. It certainly embodies everything that South Africans need to hear right now – hope against a failing economy and the creeping threat of poverty and unemployment.
The Arch provided jobs for around 1 500 people during the construction phase prior to the Covid lockdown, dropping to 300 and then quickly ramping up to 1 200 people once all could get back on track.
But there were times project was the only source of revenue for smaller contactors and construction workers and there’s now a justifiable nervousness that there are no other large developments in the wings now that it is reaching an end.
Many other developments – including the high profile Oceans development also in Umhlanga – seem to be on hold.
The MEC’s observation was perhaps the best take out from this soft launch. It is time for the public and private sectors to converse and collaborate and to draw on the experience of the developers and shareholders of The Arch to birth more projects of this calibre.
Rosenberg agrees. “KZN is very close to all of our hearts not only as developers and professional teams but because we love the city, the people. We do feel that we have one of the best cities in the world. We want to honour that and be part of that growth and part of the solution that will make our city a real target for tourism and business.”