As South Africa’s oldest city, Cape Town has a wealth of historical buildings that add greatly to its appeal as a place to live, visit and do business – but for developers, the process of doing new things with old buildings can be complicated as well as rewarding.

Special permits, designing a modern interior around an old shell, and dealing with the sometimes heated issues of historical land and local communities are just a few of the challenges that developers are faced with in the mother city.  However, overcoming these and producing a modern working space that pays tribute to the historic roots of the building that houses it is not only possible – it has been done with great success all over the Western Cape.

Cutting cautiously through the red tape – Western Cape building regulations in a nutshell

Any property developer who has experienced the administrative hurdles involved in receiving permission to develop a historic building in Cape Town and its surrounding province, will confirm that the process can be long and just a bit painstaking at times.

The provincial government’s Built Environment and Landscape Committee (BELCOM) assesses all applications related to major renovations or modifications to buildings over 60 years old.  In Cape Town, this includes many old commercial buildings currently on the market.

The committee considers the planned development, with its task being to preserve the historical heritage of the building in question.  Simply put, if a plan is likely to destroy the historical character of the building, its chances of being passed are slim.

Working with communities to preserve their heritage

Another important factor involved in developments of old buildings is related to the current occupants.  In some cases, old buildings have been part of Cape Town’s previously disadvantaged communities for many years, and the idea of a developer upgrading the site and making it unaffordable to the current tenants can cause tempers to run hot at times.

For this reason, developers need to keep an open mind and work toward compromises that allow their projects to succeed – but not at all costs.  Securing the local community’s goodwill is an essential step in making the development a success, because the renovated building and its prospective tenants will have to exist in harmony with local residents.  This is especially true in areas that are earmarked for urban upgrading such as Woodstock and Salt River.

Historical developments – success stories

Several historical buildings in Cape Town have been renovated and repurposed to provide A-grade office space to meet growing demand in the city.  Of these developments, two recently completed projects have generated great interest from would-be tenants:

Touchstone House on Bree Street in the Cape Town CBD is located horizontally across the street from Portside, the city’s flagship skyscraper.  Touchstone House has been fully redeveloped, providing 15 floors of modern office space, while maintaining its original façade.

Claremont Central was completed at the end of 2008 and has seen excellent occupancy rates ever since.  The building’s modern office spaces rise above the original structure, preserving its historical appearance at street level.

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