Life after dark past

2017-10-17 06:01

A development in the inner city is looking to give new life to one of Cape Town’s historical squares.

Commercial regeneration specialist Urban Lime has been steadily acquiring properties around Church Square over the last four years.

“Church Square is a national monument, and together with the Iziko Slave Lodge, is the central site marking the history and contribution of slaves to Cape Town,” says Urban Lime’s CEO Jonny Friedman.

“Our vision is to commemorate this by developing a central space for locals and visitors to experience and reflect on what gives the Mother City her special energy and vibe,” he says.

“I can’t paint, I can’t sculpt, but I can be the catalyst for radical inner city transformation. It is my life’s work to restore and transform areas and buildings and see people’s behaviour and engagement with those spaces change and blossom. If you create something amazing, people will always come.”

The renovation was inspired by a lack of public activity in Church Square and the exclusionary nature of the activity that did happen there, says Urban Lime’s Katie Friedman.

The property group started buying commercial property in Church Square in 2013, with the purchase of Speakers’ Corner which had been derelict for about 25 years. Extensive stabilisation and restoration works started in 2014.

“During the planning stage, Urban Lime continued to purchase commercial property in the square and – to its surprise – became the dominant private landlord in 2015. The team was regularly in the square and was increasingly puzzled by the lack of activity in this beautiful, historic, European-style square. So they started digging deep into the history and inception of Church Square. An extraordinary story emerged – from origins as a hippo pond and quite literally the birth-Place of Cape Town, followed by a shameful and bloody history to, most recently, a place reclaimed for the people of the Mother City in 2008 in the transformation from car park to pedestrian square by the City of Cape Town,” Katie says.

The group commissioned an independent report from Future Cape Town last year to understand why the public space was not a dynamic public space. The report was released earlier this year (“Time to update Church Square”, People’s Post, 11 April).

The square is rich in slave history, the report found, and is flanked by the Groote Kerk, after which it is named.

The street alongside the square, Spin Street, was the site of a silk spinning factory. In this street is a concrete plinth in memory of the slave tree under which slaves waited while their masters attended church services. The square became a public space in 2006, the report states.

The finer details of the public space are still in planning, says Katie.

The renovation of Victorian-era Speakers’ Corner included meticulously hand chipping and grinding off over 22 layers of paint on the original ironwork. The building, which was constructed sometime in the early 1800s, had been left empty for almost a quarter of a century. It is expected to be finished and occupied early next year.

Around the square, the ground floor of the Piazza and Adderley buildings are being restored and refurbished to house a number of restaurants, delis and coffee shops, all with similar, traditional-style wooden shop fronts to Speakers’ Corner. Across the square, the ground floor of 4 Church Square is also being transformed into two restaurant spaces.

“It is expected that the upgrades to the square will be largely completed by the end of November 2018, but a programme of events leading up to this will see the square being used for events and activity for visitors from the end of this year,” says Katie.

In the meantime, a nonprofit organisation has been set up to protect the interests of the square.

“Urban Lime does not believe that any one entity should have a moratorium over any public space, which is why a non-profit company called Church Square Cape Town has been formed. The organisation is managed by a board of volunteers which includes representatives for residents and for business in the square, the City, Future Cape Town and the Cape Town Central City Improvement District amongst others, to manage the square and its activities going forward with one voice,” says Katie.

“The role of the organisation is to manage the square and bridge the gap between public and private-sector activity which will see every cent generated by any commercial activity in the square invested back into the square. It will also oversee improved security, cleaning, new landscaping, public art installations, free Wi-Fi and public furniture as well as public event planning, road closures and film shoots.”

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