Prime Durban beachfront real estate stands empty, as buildings crumble and refuse piles up

This story was pulished on page 4 of the Sunday Tribune, on Janury 23, 2011.

VALUABLE LAND IS WASTED

MATTHEW SAVIDES

DURBAN ratepayers will have to wait a few months longer before they know the fate of the prime Natal Command site on Durban’s beachfront.

Filmmaker Anant Singh is appealing against the Pietermaritzburg High Court decision to overturn the sale of the property to his Videovision Entertainment in 2003, it was confirmed last week. The appeal will delay the development of the prime property, 21ha of land just a four-lane road and a parking lot away from the beachfront.

The site is across the road from Suncoast Casino and near the Moses Mabhida Stadium. Yet it has gone undeveloped for the better part of a decade and the buildings are deteriorating, the grass is overgrown and rubbish is piling up. This is likely to continue after Videovision confirmed it would appeal against the ruling in October that the eThekwini municipality’s 2003 sale of the land for R15 million was not “even-handed”. The sale was challenged in court by businessman Haramchand “Sunny” Gayadin. Singh planned to develop a R700m film studio on the land.

Spokesman Nilesh Singh told the Tribune the company had lodged appeal papers before the deadline. He would not clarify this by the time of going to press.

Deputy Mayor Logie Naidoo, who chairs the city’s economic development committee, said: “I understand Anant Singh is taking this on appeal. In that respect, again we can’t make any decision on the land while the matter is in the courts.”

He said the city needed to review the tender process that led to the sale to Singh and carefully consider what would be developed there. A film studio was still a possibility, but he said sportsrelated developments needed to be considered because the site was near Moses Mabhida Stadium.

“We have a vision for the site’s future, but the delays have set us back,” he said.

Refuge in the foreground, with the deteriorating buildings in the background

When the Tribune visited lastweek, the only visible security was a guard at the front. The buildings had clearly deteriorated, with entire roofs missing and doors and windows broken. Grass was overgrown and debris, including tractor tyres and old electricity poles, were scattered about. Vagrants seemed to be using some buildings.

It has been nearly four months since the court ruling and ratepayers are still no closer to knowing how the site will be used.

The property has been conservatively valued based on a comparative R2m a hectare for the Point development.

Municipal manager Michael Sutcliffe would only say of the site’s future: “We will report to council when ready, not through the media.”

Opposition parties have been critical of the silence on the future of the property.

DA caucus leader Tex Collins said, “The sale of the Natal Command site should not have gone through in the first place. Since it has taken so long for the municipality to resolve the issue since the judgment, it suggests they don’t know what to do.

“This is arguably the most valuable piece of real estate on the Golden Mile and it’s just standing there doing nothing. It could be a huge long-term investment for the city.

The Natal Command site from the top of the Blue Waters Hotel

“We are allowing an extremely valuable asset to deteriorate. It’s just sitting there and wasting away. The city should have started doing something by now,” he said.

Minority Front caucus leader Patrick Pillay also expressed concern.

“Four months is a long time. The city seems to be getting into a habit of dragging its feet on important matters like this. A report should have come to the executive committee for discussion with all parties.

“Procrastination of this nature doesn’t bode well for ratepayers. The land could bring in large amounts for ratepayers,” he said.

Lilian Develing of the Combined Ratepayers’ Association of Durban said a decision on the future of the site was needed as soon as possible.

“This could be a huge money-spinner. There is the income from the purchase and then, of course, the money that will come in from rates. I’m sure there are entrepreneurs willing to jump at the opportunity to do something there.”

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