JT Ross’s rapidly-developing Lion Match Office Park has drawn as tenants some of the oldest, best-known and reputable firms in the city, led by the venerable 150-year-old Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry itself.

A 112-year-old KZN family business, JT Ross is building its national headquarters in the business park and will have as neighbours, Jonsson Workwear, in existence in Durban for 59 years, Milady’s started in 1947, Paton Taylor, an architectural practice begun in Durban 127 years ago, and tyre manufacturer Dunlop established years ago. Dunlop, now owned by Japanese industrial giant Sumitomo Rubber, has moved to Lion Match from its well-known Sydney Road premises.

Visiting Durban for the formal opening at Lion Match, Mr Ikuji Ikeda, president of Sumitomo Rubber, announced further R1,1-billion investment plans and a range of quality advancements for the Dunlop brand here and at their Ladysmith factory. Sumitomo Rubber has the rights to the Dunlop brand in 52 countries on the African continent and, together with global alliance partner Goodyear, jointly owns the Dunlop brand almost worldwide. Sumitomo Rubber SA intends remaining a proudly Durban-based company “because of Dunlops’ rich history and strong loyalty base here,” and has included a dedicated museum of sentimental local Dunlop artefacts in the upgraded Lion Match building.

Grant Smith, development director of JT Ross, says the re-development of Lion Match is ongoing with another two buildings expected to be completed by the first quarter of next year. The first is a refurbished warehouse flanking the newly created Chamber Square, and the second a new five-storey office tower with sea views into which JT Ross will move. On completion in mid-2015 Lion Match Office Park will provide 24 000m² of prime office accommodation.

“The thing about Lion Match is that it is a landmark of significance. The Lion Match factory premises have a long history, having been built initially for Hunt, Leuchars and Hepburn, whose substantial timber holdings provided the wood for the matches. The factory itself is gone, but the new clean-looking office park designed by Dean Jay Architects is attracting major tenants with virtually no promotion.

“The market has jumped at it,” says Smith. “We have kept all the main ingredients of the past building and the Monuments Commission is comfortable with where we are going.”

“The development is exciting, challenging and rewarding. This is known in the trade as red-brick re-generation, embodying modern collaborativeness with an historical edginess. We are proud of the brands we have attracted here. The office park is situated just outside the city centre but the nearby iconic Moses Mabhida Stadium and sports precinct has provided an incubator for success.”

Another Lion Match tenant with a long history is Milady’s, opened in 1947 by a Mrs Bailey and a Mrs Elison as a dress shop in Pinetown. Since then the store has grown into a national chain and is now part of the dynamic Mr Price Group, another of Durban’s success stories.

One of the country’s leading architecture practices, Paton Taylor Architects, is also present in the park. Established in Durban in 1887, recognition of the company extends to New Zealand, Seychelles and Madagascar. Their Alexander Forbes building on the uMhlanga Ridge was a World Architecture Award finalist in Berlin in 2002.

Another tenant with a big reputation is Jonsson Workwear, established in Durban in 1955. They make overalls, boots, footwear, jackets, rainwear and a host of other quality workwear goods, operating nationally and internationally on the African continent, in Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea. They are another example of a vibrant international company starting from small beginnings in Durban.

One of the first new tenants at Lion Match has been the Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry which has mushroomed from small beginnings in 1856 to a substantial association with a membership of 3 500 businesses.

“We love our new premises,” says retiring chief executive Andrew Layman. The organisation attracts hundreds of visitors to its new conference centre and meeting rooms.

Centrepoint to Lion Match is The Boiler Room Cafe, a small eatery full of tempting delicacies from award- winning chef Graham Neilson and his wife Gina, a new venture from the owners of the popular 9th Avenue Bistro. The old boilers have been replaced with gleaming coffee machines, kitchen equipment and modern decor, and is already a popular venue for tenants and visitors.

JT Ross (Pty) Ltd is a family company established in 1902. In 1898 James Taylor Ross started a small business as a journeyman joiner. In 1919 he was joined by his son John Douglas Ross, and together they built a sound business based on quality workmanship, integrity and reliability. John’s son John Garth Ross then joined the family business which is today under the leadership of Douglas Garth Ross, continuing a proud tradition over four generations. The company now commands a comprehensive range of property skills, still essentially Durban based, but now with a growing national footprint, especially in Gauteng.

“There is a significant emerging trend into what is happening between us in Johannesburg and Durban,” says Grant Smith. “We are beginning to operate in mutual trading relationships.

“We develop properties for investment. What differentiates us is that we usually retain majority ownership. So the developments are actively managed by us from within the organisation. We can’t run away from any construction problems, and we try to invest and build sensibly for the long term.

“You will recall John Kusking wrote in The Seven Lamps of Architecture: ‘Therefore when we build, let us think that we build forever’.