Carlos Correia, CEO of the Fundamentum Property Group with its head office in uMhlanga, chats to The Ridge about his past, property, and shares his vision for Westown – a new development that promises to change the face of Durban.
Q: You have 23 years’ experience in the development of residential, retail, and commercial property. How did you get involved in that?
A: I started the property company in 1995 with founding partner Mlungisi Hlongwane. We realised that with the arrival of a new democracy, there would be many development opportunities in disadvantaged areas. At the time I was still doing my own private developments in Vereeniging on the Vaal River, including purchasing the Riviera International Hotel on the Vaal in 1998.
Q: What has been the most distinct lesson you have learnt about property over the years?
A: Like everything else in life, property is cyclical, has its ups and downs and is influenced by many factors, many of which are not in your control (the property owner or developer). However, if you’re patient, property in the medium- to long-term remains a good investment. South Africans love the shopping experience and bricks and mortar will still be an important part of shopping in SA.
Q: You and your partners in the Fundamentum Group – Sean Bergsma, Brendon Penn and Donovan Bergsma – have created a sizeable property portfolio. What is your secret sauce?
A: Most importantly, I think we all have a similar vision in what we want to achieve. It is sad that Brendon has emigrated and is no longer part of Fundamentum, as he brought a wealth of experience from his banking days. As for Sean and Don, they have an amazing ability to quickly grasp and understand whatever they get involved in. They are very driven and so determined to succeed – and that brings out the best in me. We work together almost on a daily basis and complement each other, as they have strengths I definitely don’t have, and I have experience that they are still developing.
Q: The Westown development promises to change the face of Durban. If you will, describe walking through that neighbourhood 10 years from now.
A: Westown will be a thriving urban hub with thousands of new residents, workers and visitors enjoying a rich and diverse range of activities and amenities. It will be a benchmark destination – clean, safe and sustainable, inclusive and offering opportunities to all.
I was always an admirer of the Tongaat Hulett (TH) approach to development in terms of how they conceptualised and developed their nodes/precincts. We started talking to TH about a development west of Durban in 2016 when some land in Shongweni became available. This presented an amazing development opportunity. There was a lot of interest already, but the land still needed to be zoned and infrastructure was a major challenge. The City believed in the vision we presented, as we had always delivered on other developments in the City that not many development companies would invest in. The City committed to putting in part of the infrastructure and the financial model we offered TH also worked well for them.
When Covid came along, we realised that “traditional malls” were not the future. We needed a new approach and spent many months talking to retailers/consultants and fi nancial institutions, what they saw as the new approach to offering something different.
Westown – the new city of the west – has given us an amazing opportunity to do things differently for the future by virtue of its location, environmental attributes and character. It will:
- Be connected, vibrant, mixed-use, people-centric, environmentally sustainable, safe and secure.
- Make the most of the open spaces and ecological assets synonymous with the region – wetland rehabilitation and environmental stewardship, horseriding, trail running, mountain biking, walking, birding and other outdoor activities.
- Be a smart, mixed-use urban landscape, developing organically, putting people fi rst and responding to their needs whether they are visiting, living or working there.
- Be inclusive, making it possible for all the people of the area to be part of the city and not a-part-from-it, as well as bringing socio-economic value to all the people in the area thus encouraging social integration, participation and ownership of this place.
- Be well managed through a place management structure (Management Association) delivering optimised functionality in terms of cleanliness, safety, greening and maintenance, as well as the provision of water, waste, and energy.
- Be designed as a high street environment where indoor meets outdoor, and an integral part of the overall precinct. Westown Square will set the trend in retail shopping experiences.
Q: Please tell us what work your parents did, where you grew up and if these formative experiences shaped your approach to business today?
A: My dad was a mechanic and an immigrant from Portugal. He moved to Vereeniging in 1963 and that’s where I was born and raised. He was a hard worker and always went the extra mile for the family. This culture was inculcated in me. My parents always supported me and my entrepreneurial pursuits, and even at school I was always “hustling” with something going on.
I saw a gap in the market in my hometown for restaurants, bars, and nightclubs – and that’s where it all started. After school I got a part soccer scholarship to Wits to study Building Science, but got sidetracked into too much of a good student life and experienced a political awareness that would change the way I would look at the future of a new SA. Neither of these helped my academic efforts, but Wits is where I first met Mlungisi and the way he looked at a new SA that was all-inclusive. That was the start of our thinking of how we could change little things like shopping in areas that had been previously neglected in SA.
Q: What do you do when you’re not working?
A: I read biographies, enjoy travelling and experiencing other cultures and destinations, and watch live sport all over the world. Generally, I am most relaxed spending time with my family and close friends.