Ponte project crashes

Once upon a time on the edge of Hillbrow two men dreamed of transforming Jo’burg’s towering, tattered Ponte into a luxury apartment complex.

From 2007 David Selvan and Nour Addine Ayyoub had been telling anyone who would listen—and every reporter from the International Herald Tribune to the Christian Science Monitor did—that their R200-million project would transform the iconic building into a glamorous and sought-after place to live. First phase occupation date: April 2008.

Today Ponte sits half-empty, a construction zone without construction, mired in would-be lawsuits and promises of what was to be.
From unpaid contractors and suppliers to wronged ex-employees and unhappy investors, Ponte is, once again, causing a stir.

Renier de Waal, a contractor hired by Ayyoub’s company, Investagain, to make cupboards for the apartments, says he was stiffed for more than R1-million. In his workshop in Kya Sands doors lie in tall stacks and cupboards are wrapped in plastic, unit numbers carefully labelled in black marker, ready for delivery.

Ponte’s project manager, Mario Familiar, says the collective total owed to the numerous contractors and suppliers could be as high as R5-million.

This doesn’t take into account investors who bought into the dream. One, who asked not to be named, says he’d like his R15 000 deposit back. If he could only figure out who to get it back from. “I don’t know who has my money or where it is,” he says. “I just want it back.”

It’s not easy to find out where that money might be. The once-talkative Selvan, an attorney turned film producer, and Ayyoub, a software developer turned property mogul, no longer want to talk. Ayyoub won’t take calls and his lawyer declines to comment. Selvan says only that he will say something soon.

It turns out Selvan and Ayyoub never, in fact, purchased the building for the reported R110- to R112-million from the East London-based Kempston Group.

“There was a lot written in the press, a lot was said and done about the deal that wasn’t necessarily true,” says Jason Kruger, Kempston Group spokesperson. “What I can confirm at this stage is that the deal between Ayyoub and the consortium has been cancelled and we are looking at alternatives.”

About the deal, Kruger says only that it was “fairly complex and unique” and allowed the developers to refurbish the building “at their sole risk” before taking ownership.

The strategy for payment appears to be based, at least partially, on investors’ deposits and the accompanying bank sureties on pre-sold units, although in interviews with Selvan and Ayyoub last year, the two indicated there was another backer—who they declined to name—that would come up with the bulk of the financing.

Sources say payment on the building was due in June 2008 and that, in the end, Selvan and Ayyoub couldn’t shore up the funds.

Ponte speaks for itself. The top half of the building—floors 35 and up—is partly occupied by long-time residents who continue to take one of the two working elevators up to their homes in the sky. The lower part—floors 11 to 34—sits empty and half-built; the 1 500 people who once lived there were told to pack up a year ago.

The former retail floors below are an empty shell. All that went to make room for New Ponte, the one with a state-of-the-art gym and upmarket grocery store, a climbing wall sprouting up from the centre of the core, looking up and into the bachelor flats starting at R300 000 and all the way to the top multi-level penthouses going for a dizzying R3,5-million.

Today, in the reception area, Pam Golding signs gather dust and glossy mock-ups of what was to be—sleek elevators, a glowing core lit with neon light boxes—cling to the walls.

The showroom on floor 32 is laid with royal-blue carpet and matching LED lights. Signs on the apartment doors of the fully furnished models on offer read: Zen-Like, Moroccan Delight and Old Money, and come complete with granite counter tops, 30-inch flat-screen TVs, silver Defy appliances and faux suede sofas.

But in the real Ponte rubble from broken-down walls fills the inner core of the building where the climbing wall was to be, windows on every floor are broken out and the stairwell railings are stripped.

After Ponte’s show day in October 2007 the developers claimed they had signed agreements on 80% of the first phase—more than 260 units.

But by April cracks were appearing in the dream’s foundation. Suppliers were grumbling about payment and the group’s in-house marketing team dissolved.

Pam Golding was brought in. By July Ayyoub was no longer taking calls or returning emails from unpaid contractors or even staff members.

Pam Golding spokesperson Roseanne Marshall says the company received a letter from Kempston in November asking it to discontinue sales while ownership of the building was renegotiated.

De Waal hopes it will be.

“I can’t use this for another job,” he says, pointing to cabinets designed for Ponte. “I hope whoever buys will say: ‘Look, this place is nearly complete,’ and will ask us to come in to finish the job.”

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