‘Buy back your neighbourhood’

Gayton McKenzie

It’s not every day that a billion rand development is inspired by a hip-hop song. But then again, Gayton McKenzie is no ordinary developer and what he has planned for the huge plot of land on Witherow Street in Heidedal is nothing short of visionary.
The hip-hop song that is the inspiration for this epic project is Buy Back your Neighbourhood from Jay-Z, and that is precisely what McKenzie has in mind for this ambitious development.

“Heidedal is deteriorating,” McKenzie says. And in a moment of honesty, he admits that the gangster activities of his youth had contributed to this very deterioration. “A seed was planted but it was a bad tree that grew from that. Now it’s time to cut down this tree and plant a new one.” Continuing with the metaphor, McKenzie believes the “shade” of this new tree will foster work opportunities as well as progress and growth. McKenzie believes the Witherow development could provide work for as many as 5000 people. And, true to his vision of “buying back his neighbourhood”, that entire workforce must come solely from Heidedal. It is also McKenzie’s intention that all the tenders should be granted only to business owners from Heidedal.

Once he had decided to undertake this mammoth task, McKenzie approached the Fountain family and purchased fifty-one percent of the land, while the Fountains, a father-and-son enterprise, retained the remaining percentage. McKenzie is very happy with this partnership, believing the Fountains provide expertise and experience that he himself lacks. “I’m a miner,” he says, “not a property developer.”

He believes the development will completely transform the face of Heidedal. It’s an ambitious plan indeed, but as usual, McKenzie has an ace up his sleeve. Right in the middle of the plot of land, is a spectacular, expansive lake, originally a quarry. McKenzie’s intention is to build apartments, offices and restaurants right around the huge lake – to create a kind of a waterfront. But he has even more plans for the beautiful emerald green waters of the lake. He sees it as providing a location for the kind of water sports completely unknown to residents of Heidedal. Sports like water polo, rowing and other water-based sports. “Maybe in six or seven years, we can even produce an Olympic champion,” he says, not with the least bit of irony.

Phase one of the project will include a cemetery and “starter homes” for young couples. And being the kind of man who doesn’t waste time, one month after making the purchase, he has already issued the first tender notices. “I want to see the first grave being occupied by September,” he says, referring to the planned cemetery.

But there’s more. McKenzie sees the entire development as being a massive “estate”, with a surrounding wall and a gated entrance. The remaining phases in this project will include everything from an early childhood development crèche, to high-end lakeside apartments as well as shopping centres and restaurants. His plans even include a hospital and a drug rehabilitation centre.

Although there are more plans, and additional phases, McKenzie admits that especially economic circumstances may influence the implementation of specific phases in the future. But he admits he doesn’t have time to waste. Although a project of this magnitude may take up to ten years to build, McKenzie intends to complete it within five years.

Vernon Baumann