CBD is 'perfect place' for The Apprentice

Posted On Tuesday, 31 May 2005 02:00 Published by eProp Commercial Property News
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Its identity is under wraps, but we can tell you the building where South Africa's version of The Apprentice is being filmed, is a Joburg landmark

Alfonso BothaIt seems more than appropriate that the South African version of The Apprentice should be filmed in the city of gold, in one of its oldest and grandest buildings that, over the years, was home to Joburg's early mining entrepreneurs.

The identity of the building is being kept secret until the show is aired in mid-June. However, we know it was built in 1904, and at seven storeys was the tallest building in the country for some time. It housed a string of mining magnates who, without a doubt, shaped the course of Johannesburg's history.

It still retains its old-world ambience, with beautiful tiles and stained glass, wrought-iron banisters, high, pressed-steel ceilings, wood-panelled walls, parquet floors and copper domes framing its corners. The building is a national monument, and still has the old safes that were used to store gold bars.

The current owner, property entrepreneur Alfonso Botha, says he "hijacked" the production company, Freemantle Productions, to make sure it used the city centre as the show's location.

"Together with Elsabe Booyens [the marketing and communications manager of the Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA)], we thought filming The Apprentice in Joburg would be the perfect marketing platform for the city," he explains.

Filming takes place largely in his penthouse apartment.

Matthew Gray, who has been sub-contracted by Freemantle to film The Apprentice, says, "The city centre and the apartment have lived up to expectations - we couldn't have had a better location or setting. It's been wonderful."

The reality television show, The Apprentice, with property magnate Donald Trump taking the apprentices through their journey, has been franchised around the world. There are productions in Europe, South America and the United Kingdom.

The plot is simple: a prominent, successful businessman takes a group of young, aspiring entrepreneurs under his wing, giving them different tasks and eliminating them along the way based on their performance, until a winner is chosen. That person will then get a job at the businessman's company.

Purchases and conversions

Botha and his business partner, Duan Coetzee, bought the building in 2003 through their company Urban Ocean. Botha, who at 36 has been in property as an agent or developer all his life, wanted the building because it was special. "I must have made 600 - no - about 800 phone calls to get this building," he smiles.
Urban Ocean went on to buy 1 Rissik Street and the old Ernst & Young building in Newtown, now renamed The Franklin, to convert to residential space. The first 50 units at The Franklin will be occupied in two months' time, the rest by the end of the year.

The company has subsequently bought 12 more buildings in the CBD, for conversion to a mix of office and residential space, or to remain as parking garages, their present function.

The vision for the building he occupies is mixed use. Its seven storeys will consist of 15 loft apartments, offices and 52 hotel rooms, to allow businesses to accommodate their guests near to their corporate headquarters in the city centre.

The mixed used model follows an international trend where executives work, live and play in the same building, Botha says.

He exemplifies this: he has offices in the building he lives in, uses a nearby gym for exercise, and is well-known at the city's coffee shops and restaurants - he describes himself as "a big walker".

"Everything is here, I don't need a car. This is the best place to be," he confirms.

Botha was pushed out of his penthouse two months ago when filming began, and has to grit his teeth for two more weeks of living in the Westcliff Hotel, before he can move back into the city centre. Prior to moving into the CBD, he lived in Melville.

Readily acknowledging the City's help and enthusiasm for the conversions, Botha picks out for special mention the development agency's Booyens; Graham Reid, the former chief executive of the JDA; and Neil Fraser, the former head of the Central Johannesburg Partnership, a section 21 company set up to revitalise the CBD.

"I did this standing on the shoulders of giants," he says.

That support goes to Executive Mayor Amos Masondo who recently visited the building, expressing his approval with his presence.

"Until a year ago, I felt like a lone ranger, but that's not the case any more."

Gray has had aspirations to move into the city for some time and is working towards moving his company, Gray-White Productions, into the CBD. It is looking at Gallo House in the fashion district, on the eastern edge of the city. He also wants to get taken along with the rush to rejuvenate the city centre.

"We are working on ways to promote the fashion district, by cleaning up the area or helping to renovate Gallo House. We won't remain just a TV company," he says.

He too praises the JDA for its enthusiasm and energy in working to get people back into the city.

But he reserves special praise for Botha and his efforts. "I have huge amounts of respect for what he has accomplished. His vision is huge, which is great for the city. He doesn't see anything negative, but if it's there, he tries to see how he can change it."

What he particularly likes about the new rush of entrepreneurs into the city is their "wonderful energy - they have a different drive to anyone else", Gray says. By that he means that they have a purpose - they are not just working for the pay cheque at the end of the month.

"It's so refreshing to work with people with a passion."

Botha, while acknowledging that the city is not perfect, is excited about it moving into different times. "I feel [I am] a very privileged person to be living through one of the special times in South Africa, with the excitement of the changes taking place.

"In 10 years' time Johannesburg will be in the best condition since its beginnings. We'll see a city in mint condition."


Last modified on Saturday, 17 May 2014 14:02

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