The Durban Chamber of Commerce is just one of the high profile tenants that has moved to Durban’s refurbished Lion Match Office Park, making this one of the most prestigious addresses in central Durban.

Grant Smith, Development Director, J.T. Ross, said this week that negotiations with a number of blue chip tenants were underway. Companies such as Milady’s, Dunlop, Jonsson Workwear, and Bay Union were either already occupying their new offices within the office park or will move in before year end.

He said the Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry was a natural fit and was symbolic of established and respected businesses moving to one of Durban’s most recognised industrial landmarks. “It’s a natural fit. This is a long standing business address and their presence here will further enhance the profile of this property. We’re very excited,” he says.

The Chamber’s decision to relocate from its offices opposite the Durban International Convention Centre is based on similar challenges faced by many businesses located on the periphery of the Durban Central Business District – buildings are seemingly becoming neglected in part and parking is a perennial problem. 

As Andrew Layman, Chief Executive of the Chamber explains: “We moved because our lease had expired, but we had become increasingly unhappy with our premises. Parking had become a nightmare and this kept members away. There will be no similar problem at Lion Match. We were also looking for a fresh office environment. We moved to Stanger Street in 1999 and there had been no office refurbishment since – and the building had been poorly maintained.”

The Lion Match Office Park is located off the busy Umgeni Road adjoining the Kings Park and Moses Mabhida Stadia, and both Masabalala Yengwa Avenue (formerly NMR Avenue) and the M4 link the northern suburbs with the precinct. Its unique mixture of old and new architecture marries perfectly with older buildings such as the Durban Country Club and high profile new developments such as the Moses Mabhida Stadium.

“We have created something special in an affordable price range – something top drawer with a contemporary urban feel,” Smith says.  

The original Lion Match factory was built in 1926 to manufacture safety matches under what is still one of South Africa’s best known brands. The factory was closed in June 2001. In 2002, developers J.T. Ross bought the Lion Match property and proceeded to convert it into a commercial precinct.  The current redevelopment is the final step in this conversion process.

Up until now, the property has had a small office dimension but warehousing space on the periphery of the property had been used to store goods.

J.T. Ross’ decision to transform it into a dedicated office complex is in keeping with the international trend of transforming used, historical locations into quirky modern facilities where existing industrial features, brickwork and design are complemented by modern elements such as glass and steel.

The end result is a refitted rather than a brand new space that has a vintage, almost retro factory or warehousing look, explains Smith. Large factories and warehouses with bigger floor plates lend themselves to modern open plan offices that are perfectly enhanced with edgy, contemporary interior décor.

Similarly, smaller loft style offices that are interspersed between the larger spaces provide an on trend location for up and coming businesses.

When complete, the Lion Match Office Park will provide 20 000mof prime office space. This is located within the old factory building itself as well as in revamped warehouses, which fall within the park.

A single warehouse has been demolished and the remaining five completely renovated with new windows and the installation of modern-day technology such as energy saving air conditioning and lighting.  The old Lion Match warehouse building itself now comprises 3 500m2 of cutting edge office space plus an auditorium with a series of shipping containers positioned for hot desking.

In addition, JT Ross is building a three story parking garage which can accommodate 500 vehicles. A coffee shop, outside eating areas and on-site medical and health facilities as well as indigenous landscaping and two courtyards complete the package for tenants in this contained, secure office park.

The development has been phased. The majority of the project will be completed as part of the first phase by September 2014 with the second phase on schedule and ready for occupation by the middle of 2015. Already, says Smith, more than two thirds of the space available has been taken up with the remainder – mainly loft style offices suitable for smaller companies – creating a great deal of interest.

He says the popularity of the Lion Match Office Park centres on location. This is the only development of its kind in the precinct. After completion of the Kings Park Office Park, there has been little A-grade office space on the northern fringe of the Durban CBD.

“This isn’t inner city rejuvenation but I suppose you could call it city fringe rejuvenation. This is a massive address metro-wise and we are going all out to capitalize on that,” Smith points out.

“The conversion of old buildings to modern office premises is to be encouraged. It helps to avoid dereliction and, I would guess that it is less expensive than buying land and building from scratch,” Smith adds.

On the purely practical side, Smith says that the office park is perfectly situated for access to all arterial routes into and out of the city and is also located on the central public transport spine that stretches out from the centre of Durban.  

Whilst many blue chip businesses are heading north towards Umhlanga, Smith says there will always be a need to accommodate top end tenants who want or need to be close to the CBD and the harbour. The Lion Match Office Park provides the upmarket accommodation and facilities needed to attract the highly skilled professionals employed by top businesses, he says.