It is probably the biggest brownfields commercial and industrial development ever undertaken in Durban and you only have to stand on top of the tallest building on site to appreciate how catalytic it promises to be.

It is a prime piece of real estate, bounded by Sydney Road and the M4.

The iconic sugar terminals are spitting distance away and a seawater canal runs up through the property from Maydon Wharf.

Two blocks to the north are the leafy sports fields of Glenwood High School.

JT Ross, one of KwaZulu-Natal’s biggest privately owned developers, bought the old Dunlop tyre factory in September and is flattening all but the historic buildings, unlocking more than 75 000m2 in portside warehousing.

Five warehouses, ranging in size from 3000m2 to 28 000m2, are under construction and renovation is underway on the office blocks.

The biggest of the offices, the old Dunlop headquarters, will offer 4000m2 of new office space alone.

Originally built in 1937, the complex at 265 Sydney Road is situated in the heart of Durban’s historic industrial area. Its proximity to the port in the congested harbor economy mean its location is gold.

JT Ross development director Grant Smith says the company hopes the new facility will do to Umbilo what the Lion Match redevelopment did in Umgeni Road, spurring on the renovation of surrounding buildings that now house hipster designers, craft brewers and cool restaurants in adjoining Station Road.

Smith says the office block might be remodeled to cater for start-ups that need small workspaces, high broadband and shared facilities, like in Station Road.

“265 Sydney Road is unique in its history, size and location, alongside the arterial routes into the CBD and to the harbour.

“It also offers huge potential because of the scale of the development. Apart from optimizing the value of the location, one road back from Maydon Wharf, we have the flexibility to offer a range of sizes for tenants, from small to 29 000m2.”

Smith said the perennial complaint about Durban south was that properties were built in the pre-war era and didn’t cater for 40 foot shipping containers. They are cheek by jowl and often log-jammed.

“We are revamping and building for top end logistics and distribution tenants with modern facilities and ease of access.”

Gareth Jones, MD of Swanlite and a member of the Umbilo Business Forum, welcomed the JT Ross development.

“This is a fantastic area. Historically and now, it makes business sense, because it is easily accessible. But it needs a clean up. We’re really looking forward to the JT Ross development. It will have a positive impact on the caliber of people this area attracts and the rentals property owners will achieve.”

Trevor Martin, broker manager for JHI in KZN, echoed this.

“Developers like JT Ross set the tone in an area.

“Lion Match acted as a catalyst for the redevelopment in Umgeni Road. This Sydney Road development will do the same.”

Smith expects to achieve rentals of R60/m2 and Martin said the price of buildings around the Dunlop property was likely to rise from around R6000/m2 to about R8000/m2 in a year or two because of the development.

Greg Ardé – KZN Life Magazine, Sunday Times