SOUTH Africa’s first tyre factory is up for a multi-million Rand retread as Durban property group, JT Ross invests in the city’s south.

Come August, the 130 000m² Dunlop manufacturing plant in Sydney Road will have morphed into state-of-the art warehousing geared to take advantage of logistics and import and export activities linked to the port.

JT Ross development director, Grant Smith said the tyre manufacturing plant was now officially decommissioned and demolition of defunct infrastructure was well on its way. Completion is scheduled for the third quarter.

In August the company took ownership of the tyre manufacturing plant which had changed hands just twice before in its 80-year life span.

The property was first owned by the Dunlop group and then by the Indian based Apollo tyre production company.

The India-based Apollo shut its doors last year with hundreds of workers being laid off. The group cited a “non-competitive pricing structure” as the major cause for its demise.

As the first tyre factory in the country, the Dunlop manufacturing plant was officially opened by the then prime minister General JBM Hertzog. Operations got underway in 1935.

Smith said the development group’s investment in the property was based on the proximity to the harbour. Its position he said had resulted in the land retaining its value despite its ageing infrastructure.

Tony Blaunfeldt, who heads up the Umbilo Business Forum said he looked forward to interacting with  the property group, particularly as the development would assist in arresting urban decay in the industrial district.

“We are delighted to have such a major player move into the area,” he said.

In a similar vein, economic and urban development expert Glen Robbins called on Transnet and the city to take responsibility for much needed upgrades in both the port and its surrounds.

“There is always demand for well-managed urban regeneration. JT Ross has a great track record. There are a vast range of businesses in Umbilo who could benefit from this development. It also makes sense to regenerate existing urban areas particularly if you compare the high cost of developing far from the city. This whole investment creates a great opportunity for the city to tackle the issue of bad buildings in that area as well,” he said.

Gareth Jones, owner of the Umbilo business Swanlite Lighting Solutions, said the development would spark regeneration in the area which he said was “badly needed”.

According to the Heritage Impact Assessment compiled for the provincial heritage conservation body Amafa, the rubber factory built in 1934 for Dunlop was originally on the corner of Sydney and Alan Paton (McDonald) Roads. A railway siding adjoined the south eastern boundary with the storm water canal and the municipal abattoir on the north eastern boundary.

The boundary wall of the abattoir still remains and according to Amafa must be retained.

As the tyre manufacturing industry grew, the facilities were replaced in the late 1940s with more warehousing built on the northern side of canal. In fact up until 1969 the factory continued to expand with the acquisition of neighbouring stands and the construction of more warehousing. The factory was also one of the city’s major employers.

Lindsay Napier, the architect who authored the report, said the rubber factory was one of the first large manufacturing industries in Durban. It played a significant role in the growth of the automotive sector. “It was one of the first factory warehouses on the east side of Sydney Road.”

Interestingly, the water tower that was built on the site in 1934 is a carbon copy of the one at the Lion Match factory. JT Ross concluded its multi-million Rand refurbishment of the historic match factory site last year. “It’s as if we are joining two iconic points in the city,” said Smith.

Doug Ross, who owns the development company, according to Smith, travels extensively looking at urban regeneration developments and how best practice can be duplicated at home. “This is a massive vote of confidence in the Durban economy. We believe in the future of this city and what we have done at both the Lion Match Factory and now at the Dunlop site. These projects are in line with international best practice. We have a vision of how old, but revamped industrial sites, can act as catalysts for a place where it is a pleasure to do business, in an environment based on contemporary design and world-class environmental practices,” he said