The area is the historical heart of the city, but in recent years it has become dilapidated and acquired a reputation as a hangout for drug dealers and prostitutes. The new initiative, dubbed Operation Harmony, aims to clean up the area through improved visibility of police and security personnel.
Leading estate agents in Port Elizabeth have praised efforts by the police, security companies and business people to restore Central to its former glory.
Riaan Putter of Re/Max Independent Properties in PE has welcomed the initiative. “It is a beautiful part of our city with magnificent historical buildings and churches and we have to ensure that people can enjoy it. Residents and tourists have the right to feel safe when they visit the area.
“If this initiative is successful, it will no doubt have a positive impact on property prices. Currently prices in the area don’t reflect the true value of the property.
“Due to the criminal elements, people are weary to invest in property in the area as it is unlikely that they will get a good return on their investment.”
Jaco Rademeyer, of Jaco Rademeyer Estates in the city, says the operation to restore Central will not only improve property prices, but will also make residents of PE more positive about their city and proud of their heritage.
But he says getting rid of criminal elements and improving safety will not be enough. He believes that the rundown buildings in Central will have to be upgraded before suitable growth in the property market can be expected.
“Investors run the risk that the levies will be too high compared to the purchase price,” he says. “A levy should not be more than one per cent of the purchase price, but some of the buildings need considerable maintenance. They will have to be renovated to attract investors.”
Rademeyer says higher property prices in Central will have a positive ripple effect on properties in adjoining areas like Park Drive and Cape Road. Putter agrees that the restoration of the area will have a wider impact.
He says beautiful old houses with lots of character like those in Richmond Hill will also become more valuable. “Homeowners in nearby suburbs will also have peace of mind that their properties will not lose value because of an encroaching bad element.”
Central is the oldest residential area of Port Elizabeth, according to Dr Otto Terblanche, senior lecturer in history at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. “Some of the houses date back as far as the 1830’s.”
He says it was once the foremost residential suburb in the city and it is sad that its unique character is not being preserved as it should be. “Central is a show room of the architecture of the 19th century,” says Terblanche.
“From a historical point of view its importance is undeniable. It contains the oldest house in the city, the first brick building in the Eastern Cape, some of the oldest churches in the city and the oldest park,” he says.
“St Georges Park was the venue for the first cricket test in the country in 1889 and the first rugby test in 1891, to name but a few historical facts.”
Terblanche has also applauded the new initiative to restore Central, but says there should be a continuous effort to clean up the area.
“A police raid every now and then won’t solve the problem.”