WHEN two brothers moved their longestablished family business from Woodstock to the central city in 2001, scores of other businesses were packing up and moving out.
That pattern of bearish sentiment – and the considerable disinvestment from the central business district that went with it – can be traced today in the consolidation of the significant suburban business nodes of Century City, N1 City, Claremont and Westlake, among others.
Then, again, the stubborn optimism – or, where there was little choice, resilience – of those who hung in there has, if not on its own, helped build the foundations of a safer, vibrant, livable city, the key aims of the Cape Town Partnership and Central City Improvement District, launched at the turn of the century to engineer a turn-around in Cape Town’s fortunes.
Optimism is one of the strongest factors in a city’s ability to adjust dynamically to shifting conditions and pressures,moreover, optimism that is rooted authentically in the story of the place itself, its history, personalities and struggles, and the demands of its survival.
This is true – some might say ironically, their handful of detractors will doubtless say arguably – of Mike and Casey Augoustides. It is also true of a man, long dead, who, like the Augoustides, put his roots down in Cape Town and was no less considered and resourceful in exploiting the opportunities of his time.
Martin Melck, a master mason and soldier under the Dutch East India Company, came to the Cape in 1746. Having attained burgher rights four years later, he spent the next decade consolidating his stake, emerging as one of the wealthiest landowners in the colony. Between 1764 and 1767, he built a capacious warehouse on Bree Street.
This is where Melck and the Augoustides met in the 21st century; the building – much traded (and hacked about) since the late 1700s – became the home of Mike’s Sports when it moved from Woodstock. It was no longer a warehouse, but a block of subdivided properties which, incrementally, became the sole property of the Augoustides.
It was – is – a pretty tatty space, much altered and, here and there, neglected by its innumerable owners over the years, and never before in modern times owned or conceived as a whole. The consolidation prompted the Augoustides, back in 2006, to look at options for making something more of the whole building. That’s when they discovered its history, and began the long, testing process to match the values of heritage and urban dynamism the site calls for.
Casey and Mike Augoustides recalled this week the risky decision of 2001 to move from Woodstock, where Mike’s Sports had been established by their grandfather, Alec, and his brother, Mike, in 1949. Soon after its founding, their father, Nick, took over the business.
Several bloody incidents and a general atmosphere of lawlessness in Woodstock in the late 1990s made the brothers think seriously about moving to town.
Casey Augoustides recalled: “The city wasn’t much better at that time… there were a lot of vacant buildings, and guys were trying to sell… but we felt it was a good location with good infrastructure, and that things would come right.”
The building was significantly degraded, they remembered, but there was no fuss from any lobby about that.
The trouble began when they advanced their initial proposal for a redevelopment, crafted by highly respected practitioner Gabriel Fagan, a pre-eminent figure in heritage and restoration architecture, and continued when a revised proposal was submitted.
Opponents maintain that the current much-altered version of the warehouse is “a precious irreplaceable element of our oldest city and the heritage of all South Africans”, and “must not be compromised”.
Not everyone is convinced of that; the revised proposal has been approved both by the provincial heritage authority, Heritage Western Cape (HWC), and the national South African Heritage Resources Agency (Sahra).
Many in the architectural and heritage fraternity view the proposal as solution not travesty.
Leading architect and scholar Jo Noero (he is a professor at UCT) commented: “I would say unequivocally that the development is noteworthy and resolves in a very subtle way all the challenges this project poses. The proposal is masterful – it addresses the important corner of Bree Street and Strand Street by pulling back from this corner. The new bulk is accommodated at the right place on the site. The building steps back to acknowledge the mass of the building across the road and the establishment of an arcade to connect Bree Street back to the church courtyard is wonderful…” He confessed to being “mystified” by the earlier rejection of the proposal.
Emeritus Professor Herbert Prins, a well-known and experienced architect and conservationist, and former member of the Gauteng heritage resources authority, said the proposal “shows a very elegant
OPTIMISTS: Casey and Mike Augoustides moved their family business from Woodstock to the central city in 2001.