Melville residents will soon be able to celebrate a new park at 27 Boxes – providing they can keep an open mind. Suzanne Brenner, who was one of the original development’s most outspoken critics, believes the new 27 Boxes is set to be a stylish addition to Melville and to the city of Johannesburg.
Rising from the ashes of Faan Smit Park, the regenerated public park heralds 27 Boxes’ reinvention as a family destination for the Melville community. Designed for sustainability and a water-scarce Johannesburg, it will be more cement than grassy meadows but measures to soften the starkness are already visible. Euphorbia trees create an almost sculpted façade for the length of the property in 3rd Avenue.
The overnight greening of 27 Boxes is the work of garden wizard Patrick Watson, the landscape designer whose magical touch has set him apart and transformed outdoor spaces throughout Africa and beyond – some creative, signature designs that spring to mind are those at Sun City, The Saxon, Steyn City and North Island in the Seychelles.
The declassification of Faan Smit Park and its eventual conversion into a retail development was one of the most contentious issues in Melville of recent years, which followed on the heels of another developer’s broken promises about the swimming pool at Melville Boulevard in Main Road. A year ago, 27 Boxes’ future looked grim but Citiq Property Services’ new CEO Gustav Holtzhausen opened his door to anyone who knocked and met with representatives of the Melville Residents Association among others, who shared their concerns that the centre was in crisis. Unlike his predecessors, he listened. More to the point, the Citiq CEO held out an olive branch to the people of Melville and agreed to a substantial injection of funds to reinvent the white elephant.
Leon Pretorius, owner of The Countess restaurant, saw an opportunity and volunteered to be the turnaround manager. With a trial minuscule budget, he realised he had to do something small to make a big impression. First up was the metamorphosis of the Wednesday night market (which has just reopened for the season). Relocated from the rooftop, Pretorius sensibly took it downstairs to co-exist with the shops in the centre and toned down the music to an unplugged level. On the upper level, a compact food hall emerged. Tables and benches were placed in close proximity to takeaway establishments and pop-up kitchens, and in no time locals voted with their feet in support of the market for after-work drinks and a bite. Durban curry, Thai, Korean, Japanese and Sri Lankan dishes – not to mention irresistible homemade cake and chocolates – pulled in the people. Each week the crowd grew (and continues to grow).
The CEO was taking note. Satisfied that Leon Pretorius had what it took to turn 27 Boxes into a community-supported centre, Holtzhausen also brought in Brian Green and his business partner Mark Batchelor, whose success at 44 Stanley spoke for itself. Behind the scenes the team met with architects and designers and compiled a list of necessaries to convert the uninviting space into a place locals want to be.
Among the innovations are well-defined, corresponding entrances on 3rd and 4th Avenues, a plant nursery and a new children’s playground on 4th Avenue incorporating the amphitheatre. Setting the scene for enchantment, there’s a castle constructed by a stonemason from rocks on the site; a water feature that tumbles down the tiers of the amphitheatre; a sandpit for the little ones and artificial trees for the climbing pleasure of adventurous children.
A visual overhaul has already made a difference. The colour scheme and the old-fashioned railings and balustrades have given way to contemporary alternatives. See through glass will replace the dark glass frontage, which when combined with well-placed lighting will transform the boxes into inviting day and night spaces.
There is still a lot of work to be done on the tenant mix but the management team is consulting specialist traders with a view to increasing convenience shopping. With the first hour free in the refurbished underground parking, the takeaway food and freshly baked bread outlets have felt the benefit.
It’s exciting times at 27 Boxes. Change is underway to integrate the centre with its environment in this village called Melville. The park, the plant nursery and the reconstructed playground will co-exist with the take-away establishments, the quirky shops and the market. The management team is taking a leap of faith in the Melville community knowing full well that overall success can only really be determined by whether shoppers support the tenants who have patiently waited through the noise and dust.
“Some fabulous new shops have already come on board,” says Leon Pretorius, “and we plan to give the communities of Melville and surrounding areas more of what they want.”
Sounds like a recipe for success.