Reece Easthorpe is the man on the beat down at 8 Morrison Street, a dynamic and integrated space situated in what has been dubbed ‘Rivertown’, Durban. The area is in the process of being transformed by Maboneng developer, Propertuity, and 8 Morrison is the pilot so to speak. In the past year, the space has successfully drawn like-minded people into the city to shop, work, celebrate and indulge in all things local, sustainable, artistic and delicious.
From the moment he took the reigns, Reece has exuded passion and relentless energy, lighting a fire in the furnace that is the Rivertown triangle. I sat down with him to find out exactly what Propertuity has planned for the area, how it will benefit Durbanites and what the vision of urban regeneration means for the city.
Samora: Let’s talk about the genesis… where are you from and briefly describe how you came to be working with Propertuity?
I’m a Durban boy, super privileged to have the opportunity to be making an impact on the creative scene in Durban. I’m from Wentworth, a place most wouldn’t consider to have much positive influence on the city – and certainly not in the broader sphere of such critical mass property development and urban regeneration that I’m working on at Propertuity.
Joining Propertuity was a chance meeting coupled with a similar energy and drive for social change in inner-cities with a strong belief in youth culture and a somewhat stupidly optimistic ambition that we will develop a new community in the CBD of Durban and work tirelessly to ensure its authenticity whilst maintaining a unique global citizen appeal.
Samora: You seem to be the beat conductor on the ground at 8 Morrison Street, and are involved in a number of urban development projects in Rivertown. What exactly is your role at Propertuity?
Reece: I am retail curator and activations manager, a sort of lifestyle position which ambassadors the brand in Durban.
8 Morrison Street, for me, is like the bloodline of Rivertown. It’s an environment with an energy that allows one to visualise the future of Durban. I work on a number of developments across the portfolio, a few being Pixley House residential apartments, Pioneer Place fashion house, Ambassador House office suites and the Mermaid District which is the name given to our buildings down at the Point Waterfront area, home to Durban’s most exclusive Jazz Lounge The Chairman and a soon to be launched restaurant called The Persian Tea Room which will be Durban’s only truly authentic Bombay eatery, paying homage to our rich eastern heritage.
Then I am also actively involved in the biggest development in the city, which is the Rivertown Triangle Community Build. This deal has been hailed as the single biggest land purchase in the CBD in the past two decades so it’s a massive move in the right direction for the City of Durban.
Samora: What’s the most exciting project you are currently working on in terms of the future of the city?
Reece: Undoubtedly Rivertown Triangle. Every three months, you will see a new development popping up, which is an exciting thought for the city of Durban (which many call slow-paced!)
At the moment, we are doing a massive upgrade on the iconic Ambassador House building which will be home to 68 well-restored office suites and an amazing retail component on the ground floor. The upgrade will restore and celebrate the rich architectural history whilst also reflecting current trends and our minimalist style.
Simultaneously, we are building a new site, which will be home to Curiocity Poshtell – a new concept of backpacking meets boutique hotel with a cool entertainment component and elements of youth culture throughout.
Samora: How do the city and its people benefit from investment and developments like this?
Reece: A new community brings about massive social cohesion and uplift. From job creation to an upswing in the morale of city goers and the more obvious growth in tourism that our African design styles draws in, which positively impacts the local economy.
Take 8 Morrison Street for example, previously a trucking warehouse employing +- 20 temp staff as general workers. Now, our unique transformation of the space has enabled over 40 small businesses to thrive, and each business has two or three full time staff.
Samora: You are passionate about Durban and urban regeneration. How do you envisage the city in 10 years time? What changes would you most like to see?
In 10 years’ time, I would like to see other developers adopting an ethos of developing spaces that react intuitively to the needs of the community. People should steer the change and developers should pay attention to the signs. I think our city is on the back foot because slumlords are being allowed to cut corners and have their way in our city which has resulted in a massive loss to some of our rich art deco architectural heritage. Buildings that are beautifully designed are now being operated without running water and electricity. Pity.
I would like to see youth taking charge of the way our city is designed and how it operates. We are a powerful voice of change and using this voice for positive impact is a critical factor in allowing Durban to overtake sister cities like Jo’burg and Cape Town. I believe this will happen in five to 10 years. Our beaches are the best in the world, so is our weather. Our people just need to believe this 110% and allow this confidence to help us steer our communities in a positive direction – one without derelict buildings, dingy bars and dark crevices which allow crime and illegal activity to thrive.
Samora: Gentrification is a contentious issue when talking about urban regeneration. Are there strategies in place to insure that spaces are inclusive and affordable?
Reece: Keeping spaces affordable is our focus. This is our entry point to the market and allows us to draw in youth entrepreneurs. At 8MS, retail pods start from R3 500 per month. Nowhere else do you get an environment this conducive to growth and creativity for such an affordable monthly rental. We also offer six-month leases and only one-month rental as deposit… no other landlord in the city offers such favourable terms.
Inclusion is something people need to opt in for. When growth comes about we have a choice to either stand by the side and watch it overtake us or we can get involved and grow along with the growth developments. I see this as positive motivation for youth to aspire to something greater than what currently is available. We must want to attain a better standard of living, better social spaces and work opportunities in environments that lend themselves to international relationships, which stimulate growth.
How does Rivertown differ from Maboneng?
It differs because of Durban’s authenticity. Rivertown is home to many surfboard shapers and embodies a culture that’s a unique combination of relaxation and an energy that inspires entrepreneurship. A sort of marry between Jo’burg and Cape Town. This uniqueness is something Durban enjoys exclusively.
You can go into Rivertown today at 1am and feel absolutely safe – and we haven’t even really started developing as yet. There is an amazing sense of security with its wide roads, which are well lit, and the constant flow of traffic.
For me, Rivertown is more of a purist’s development – not adding to the area but enhancing the area’s already rich heritage and bringing in a new wave of street art, cultural movements and social activations. Beach. City. Life.
Samora: Who inspires you?
Reece: I’m fortunate to be surrounded by the people that inspire me. From my CEO Jonathan Leibmann and Director Eric Herr to city officials Eric Apelgren, Guy Redman and Themba Mchunu. Spearheaded by my Mom who has always been my biggest fan and single most influential person in my life.