The inside story of Rosebank’s new landmark The Bank
Officially launched in Rosebank in May 2022, voco The Bank is one of those standout spaces that signals a new way forward for hospitality.
Launched together with Valor Hospitality, this is the first voco by IHG Resort & Hotels to launch in Africa. The hotel shares space with chic co-working offices by Workshop 17 and the acclaimed Proud Mary restaurant in the new The Bank building. In a testament to the attractiveness of Rosebank as a leisure and investment destination, The Bank has quickly become a landmark property in the heart of the district.
To get behind this story, we interviewed Mark Corbishley, CEO of Blend Property Group at the official launch party of voco The Bank in May.
When asked what brought Blend Property Group into Rosebank, Corbishley immediately answered, “the Rosebank Management District (RMD), the mix of residential and commercial, and the neighbourhood’s walkability. The big stakeholders are all fairly heavily invested here”.
Blend Property Group has been in Rosebank for a number of years and was formerly located at 17 Baker Street, having moved from Cape Town.
Corbishley says: “Rosebank has a unique city feel compared to Sandton where you have to get in a car to go anywhere. It’s completely unwalkable with its big behemoth buildings. They don’t have the character that the buildings in Rosebank have. It’s by virtue of the developers who have been involved in this node that there is such a good mix. You can list the big stakeholders on your hand, those who control the core of Rosebank, and are heavily invested in the CID and its future. Companies like Old Mutual and Hyprop, for example.
Blend Property Group sees its role in the district as bigger than just occupying its own property. “We want to work with other property owners in the district to find solutions and to enhance the attractiveness of Rosebank.” Part of this will involve replacing the umbrella awnings along The Zone@Rosebank piazza that is opposite Proud Mary, and also next to Rocomamas and Nandos. The project will be undertaken in collaboration with Old Mutual.
A neighbourhood that embraces art
In May 2022 Blend Property Group engaged in a road upgrade of Cradock Avenue, seeking solutions to the congestion in the area, partly created by the unsuitability of the current Rosebank taxi rank to the growth of taxi commuter services in the area. This area at the entrance to voco The Bank had become a zone of illegal parking and stopping, making it difficult for e-hailing services to operate fluidly.
The project saw the narrowing of the road to create designated stopping zones. It also involved the installation of a magnificent Edoardo Villa sculpture “Tree of Life” at the corner of Tyrwhitt Avenue and Cradock Avenue. What has for so long been an unpleasant corner of Rosebank has been transformed to enhance walkability and visitor experience in the neighbourhood.
Art is embedded into the fabric of The Bank. One of Blend Property Group’s shareholders, Martin Epstein owns Art Gazette, a company focused on acquiring art directly from artists and bringing contemporary works into the design of commercial and leisure spaces. voco The Bank has an outstanding collection, with around 750 original works as well as “art butlers” trained to take guests on art tours.
Managing the challenges of Covid
While voco The Bank, Workshop 17 and Proud Mary are already making a splash in the neighbourhood, the development of The Bank faced enormous uncertainty.
“We are quite heavily invested in Rosebank. When we started we were 20% into the build and then hit Covid in March 2020. The bank was a speculative build. We started without any tenants and within six months we signed on Proud Mary, RMB and Workshop17. Covid hit and disrupted. Every tenant tried to get out of their lease and we had to negotiate.”
In an unusual move Blend Property Group ended up taking ownership of Proud Mary, signing a partner agreement with the original operators.
“We have never owned a restaurant – but it’s been a phenomenal success. It’s opened our eyes to taking operational exposure with a property underpinned. Normally we would have signed a 10 year lease – they would have paid us a rental. In this instance we are exposed to the highs and the lows but the company behind Proud Mary has proved themselves to be phenomenal partners and exceptional operators”.
With this in mind Blend Property Group have invested with Trio Brands – and will be involved in a new restaurant to open at The Zone@Rosebank in September 2022 together with the creative retail offering We Are Egg, a type of multi-brand department store with a focus on customer experience.
Part of the motivation of being involved in the new restaurant venue was prompted by a concern for voco The Bank guest experience, and ensuring an optimal environment. “It’s a fine balance between creating a vibe and making it palatable for the surrounding neighbourhood.”.
Building a space full of creative energy
Corbishley talks about the current challenges for commercial property developers. “Commercial space in Gauteng is in huge oversupply across the region – Covid accelerated that. While I don’t believe the office is dead, people want a space that has energy. The challenge is to get the right tenant mix and make the vision from the start.”
As far as building practices go, Blend Property Group sees a green future, and The Bank is an off-the-grid build, with a high-pressure gas line and a solar plant on the roof, among its answers to the energy crisis being faced in South Africa. It’s a cost-saving and a world-saving move.
From an old bank building that once housed a stuffy FNB branch, this ambitious project saw The Bank emerge in Rosebank, and fast become one of the most attractive and welcoming destinations in the neighbourhood. It suits the suburb perfectly – a place that Corbishley says “embraces art, is full of creative energy, is diverse and integrated.”