Durban wants to find bistros for beachfront
The third time could prove the charm needed for eThekwini Municipality, which hopes to readvertise for beachfront restaurant tenders by the end of this month.
The empty restaurant building at North Beach.
The aim, said the head of the business support, tourism and markets unit at the municipality, Philip Sithole, was for the vacant sites on the beachfront to be occupied by Easter. These buildings have been unoccupied since being built before the Fifa World Cup in 2010.
The municipality has called twice before for proposals from restaurateurs, but says it has not accepted any as it is looking for experience, quality and variety.
Sithole said this time it was determined to get "the right tenants".
"The tender documents should hopefully be out by the end of this month, or at the latest, the second week in November," said Sithole.
"Our main objective is to attract tenants who are in line with the character and lifestyle of the beachfront. We're also looking for some uniqueness to their cuisine, as well as the issue of sustainability."
The unoccupied premises at the soccer beach.
Bob Humphreys, owner of La Bella restaurant in St Thomas Road and previous owner of Thirsty's restaurant in the Point area, said the problem was upsetting.
"The revamped beachfront is stunning. For the municipality to say they cannot get people to rent these buildings is actually upsetting because so much money has been spent on the redevelopment."
The city has spent more than R200 million in rejuvenating the beach precinct.
"I can't understand how these buildings can stand idle for so long. It's such a prominent position. Instead of its lying vacant, why not have cheap rentals for the first three years as a start?" Humphreys said.
He said he might look into submitting a tender.
A tenantless property sitting idle on South Beach.
Theuns Smuts, the owner of Hai.bo in Windermere, said he had sent a few proposals to the municipality in the past two years. He thought the biggest issue was that the municipality kept "moving the goalposts".
"There were no written requirements. They initially said they wanted a well-funded restaurant with a concept that was uniquely Durban. My last proposal in April had the support of local politicians," said Smuts.
He said the monthly rental expected was between R60 000 and R70 000. He believed this was reasonable as venues at other prime locations had to pay up to R300 000 a month. For the festive period, he said, there were flyers for small "pop-up shops" on the beachfront, but he thought this was not the solution.
"I've spoken to a few other people who've also submitted proposals and all have said the difficulty is that the municipality [has] kept moving the goalposts. I'll see if I will try again. At present, I'm exploring business possibilities in Umhlanga in the private sector," he said.
Sithole said the municipality was looking at how the space could be used for the festive season. The facilities could be used by people hosting events in December.
"We are worried that these buildings are unoccupied, but at the same time we want something sustainable," he said.
"Our main aim now is for these sites to be permanently occupied by the first quarter of next year."
André Schubert, owner of the Market restaurant and Arts Café, has spoken out before on this issue and says nothing has changed since.
"The security issues still exist. The municipality wants restaurants to open at night, but there is no visible policing and hotels are telling their guests not to go out at night," he said. "The municipality did not consult restaurateurs before it built. I'm not in a position to bid."
Sithole confirmed municipality wanted the the restaurants to operate at night.
"Business people are risktakers. This is not about being comfortable. Here are these buildings. Anyone who wants to make the most of them should apply.
"The beachfront today is different from what it was five years ago. The whole environment has changed.
"The beachfront isn't a virgin area. Hotels have restaurants which have been operating at night. Let's wait until people respond. If there are issues, we can work them out. We have to start somewhere."