Ponte City – a South African landmark – rises again
Hijacked by gangs and buried in trash, Africa's tallest apartment building gets a new look: out with the orange shag rugs, in with "Global Fusion."
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Many downtown building owners gave up on their properties when they weren't able to collect rent from tenants, or couldn't control the crowds of people forcing their way into each apartment. Some apartment complexes were "hijacked" by gangs who blocked owners from entering and forced tenants to pay them instead.Skip to next paragraph
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By the mid '90s, Hillbrow's murder and rape rates were worse than almost any place in the world. Ponte City's owners hadn't stepped foot in the building for years, and rubble piled up five stories high in the core. Despite the expansive views from every unit, the building was better known for rats, guns, drugs, and violence. Ponte City's notoriety even spilled into the literary world – German novelist Norman Ohler centered his book, "Stadt des Goldes," on Ponte, telling the violent story of a young woman who falls in love with a Nigerian drug lord who lives there.
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Manny da Costa is the type of buyer Ayyub wants to see here. He's lived in the city his whole life, he and his wife, Maria, are empty nesters ready to downsize from their expansive home in one of the city's leafy residential neighborhoods.
"When it was launched many years ago, this was the elite place in Hillbrow," Mr. Da Costa says. "Now maybe the wheel turns.... And it might sound strange to you, but there would be something nice about owning a piece of the tallest residential building in Africa."
Da Costa stands on the 32nd floor in one of the model furnished apartments entitled "Global Fusion." This is the only finished floor of the building, with a super mod, blue-light lit corridor and six model apartments. Developers are selling all of the units furnished, in styles that range from "Future Slick" – all red, black, and chrome minimalist – to "Glam Rock," with velvet, '60s-patterned furniture. The apartments sell from $80,000 to $150,000.
Da Costa doesn't mind that Hillbrow is still considered one of the most dangerous neighborhoods on the continent – most of that, he says, is perception. And moreover, he says, the building itself seems safe – because of its position on the rocky outcrop, and because of the way the entrance road is built, the Ponte is almost a fortress.
Mrs. Da Costa runs her hands over the apartment's granite kitchen island: "This is perfect. It's lock up and go. And eventually, they'll have everything right here."
Ayyoub nods. He has big plans for making the Ponte a community, with an indoor climbing center at the base of the core, a huge child-care center, restaurants, and spas. The Virgin Atlantic gym chain has committed to building a large facility on one of the bottom levels; restaurants are vying for space.
The city's development agency is upgrading the area directly around Ponte, in part as a general urban renewal effort, in part to prepare for the 2010 soccer World Cup, to be hosted by South Africa. Ponte City is only blocks from one of the main World Cup stadiums – some apartments look right down onto the playing field.
This has also been a big selling point, Ayyoub says: Between investors and individual buyers, 269 of the available 311 apartments sold on the Ponte's launch date in October.
"When we opened this to the public, 500 people drove here," he says. "They all saw it, they all understood."
He peers down into the gray light of the concrete core – a move that can make one's stomach lurch. "You can already see it, feel it," Ayyoub says. "Look at this, it's amazing."