No more glitz at Cape Town's Ritz

The Ritz Hotel in Cape Town.
The Ritz Hotel in Cape Town.
Image: The Ritz Hotel via Facebook

Cape Town’s sparkling Ritz Hotel has lost its shine once again.

Celebrity businessman Nicky van der Walt and his model wife Lee-Ann Liebenberg announced the Sea Point landmark’s multimillion-rand rebirth in October 2016. But 19 months later‚ the management company Van der Walt quit in March has been ordered to vacate the 20-storey landmark‚ topped by a revolving restaurant‚ by June 22.

Cape Town high court judge Patrick Gamble said the company had displayed “chutzpah of the first order” by occupying the Sea Point Hotel since March 2017 without paying a cent to Ritz Plaza‚ which owns the property.

Dr Barney Hurwitz‚ who founded the Netcare private hospital group‚ controlled Ritz Plaza and negotiated the lease with Van der Walt but died in the midst of the litigation in October 2017‚ aged 95.

Gamble said if Van der Walt’s former company‚ Ritz Hotel Management‚ did not vacate the property by June 22‚ the sheriff would be sent in to evict it a week later.

But litigation over the hotel is not over. A winding-up application brought by Ritz Plaza was postponed pending the outcome of the eviction case‚ and will be heard on June 28. Dozens of South African Commercial Catering and Allied Workers’ Union members who work at the Ritz have been granted leave to intervene in that case‚ saying a winding-up order would leave them unemployed.

It’s all a far cry from the glitzy opening party in December 2017 and Van der Walt’s professed dream of creating “An Iconic Landmark Reinvented” when he announced plans to bring the Ritz into the 21st century

After signing a 20-year lease with Hurwitz‚ Liebenberg and Van der Walt — also a former director of Shimmy Beach Club at Granger Bay — said they would pump R110-million into glamming up the hotel.

But it emerged from Gamble’s judgment that their dream hit financial trouble almost immediately.

“[Ritz Hotel Management] began defaulting on its monthly rental of R1.3-million and other November 2016‚” said Gamble.

By June 2017‚ it owed almost R13-million‚ and Hurwitz cancelled the lease.

Ordinarily‚ a tenant in such a case would not have a leg to stand on‚ said Gamble‚ but Van der Walt’s company tried to turn the tables on Hurwitz by saying it was his fault the rent had not been paid and claiming damages of more than R20-million.

Gamble rejected all Ritz Hotel Management’s arguments.

“The landlord has lawfully cancelled its lease with the tenant and is entitled to have its property back‚” he said. "[The tenant] is essentially saying‚ ‘I will only move when you pay my damages’. The late Dr Hurwitz [who ... was a devout member of the Jewish faith born in eastern Europe] might will have termed such a stance chutzpah [“shameless audacity”] of the first order.

“The Ritz owns a valuable asset with which it can generate an income and it is being frustrated in that regard by an obstinate tenant whose conduct has the hallmark of mala fides [bad faith].”

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