When Brian Green found 107 Bree, it was a rundown parking garage. As a former cameraman, Brian had travelled the world but had neither experience nor capital when he entered the property game ten years ago. His first project, 44 Stanley, was an industrial property in Johannesburg dating from the 1930s that he developed with business partner, Mark Batchelor. Since then they’ve redeveloped 87 Commissioner in central Johannesburg, 3 Desmond in Kramerville, and now 107 Bree, their first project in Cape Town.
Brian was in Cape Town to submit an offer on a Buitengracht building, but another buyer beat them to it. Before flying back to Johannesburg that same day, he drove past 107 Bree. It had a car ramp to the first floor and fuel tanks in the basements from the days when it was a petrol station. He sent Mark some pictures, called the agent, and they struck a deal within 12 hours.
This was December 2010, but formal permission to renovate was only granted two years later.
“We wanted to get cracking very quickly on the building,” says Brian “but we got incredibly held up by Council and by Heritage.” There was always an intention to conserve the heritage façade and Art Deco details, but the Heritage Trust review of the new balustrade design and proposed window boxes took over nine months. To meet new building regulations the fire escape steps needed to be 1,5m wide, but according to Brian, the existing structure only had 1m to work with per flight. “They’re regulating these buildings to a point where it becomes unaffordable to actually refurbish. That’s where the Council really has to help us”.
He feels there should be an adaptive process for historic buildings in order to ease redevelopment. If the City Council can see the value in urban renewal by developers, and make the process more efficient, it will speed up growth. The building, which was meant to be finished in October 2012, is now expected to open for trade in April 2013.
Brian is enthusiastic about Bree as a street for design-minded people and he admires the passionate entrepreneurs in the area. He wants the tenants of 107 Bree to also love what they do. While it was first reported that there will be a jazz bar in the basement and retail above, there’s now talk of a famous restaurateur taking three levels of the building. Brian believes the block will become a strong component of Bree Street’s development, mentioning the undecorated Lion’s Head bar, designed by Gregor Jenkin, and a big recording studio being built below it this year.
“Cape Town is a vibrant city,” he says. “The dots on Bree Street are all going to join up.”