“You have to be street smart to develop in Durban. The size of projects and number of enquiries will never be massive as in Johannesburg, so cost, design and the ability to deliver within administrative approval constraints is even more important,” explains Grant Smith, Development Director, J.T. Ross.
Just prior to the Christmas shut down, J.T. Ross is reviewing a rewarding 2013 – a year which not only saw Durban continue its relentless march northwards but also beginning to embrace the concept of a dig out port to the south as well as explore further opportunities to the west.
“This year has been an exceptionally busy one. We have taken significant land risk and have been able to deliver against sometimes stringent affordability and value criteria of tenants,” he concludes.
He points out that J.T. Ross has backed its confidence in a general economic recovery with investment in two critical parts of South Africa – Gauteng’s East Rand, where the company has prioritized the Plumbago Business Park and Plumbago Logistics Park, and Durban, where both Riverhorse Valley and the envisaged new commercial and industrial node, Cornubia, have registered successes.
He says J.T. Ross effectively pioneered the start of development in Cornubia, with a mega multi-million rand 8 000m2 cold and ambient temperature warehouse for Digistics – which is, incidentally, already being investigated to accommodate an additional 4 000m2 at the request of the tenant.
Recognising that this will become the location of choice for both local and international logistics companies, J.T. Ross has bought 16 hectares at Cornubia and expects further investment and developments to follow with at least two others already under negotiation.
In addition to a number of office development in the Umhlanga environs, J.T. Ross has also committed itself to a completely new direction – the creation of Ross Healthcare to own and manage medical facilities in KwaZulu-Natal. A landmark investment has been the R400 million Gateway Private Hospital which is due for completion mid 2014.
“When it comes to Gateway Private Hospital, the investment has been significant. This year has seen the company start to increase its footprint in the private medical sector – a highlight and a challenge at the same time,” admits Smith.
Although, from a vacant land availability point of view, most opportunities for development of a significant size remain in the north, this in no way means that J.T. Ross has set its sights firmly in a single direction.
For starters, during 2013, J.T. Ross has commenced the redevelopment and expansion of the landmark Lion Match building in the inner city which is home to its own head office. Going west, they are about to embark on a large development in the Westway Office Park.
To the south, they are redeveloping another warehouse in Jacobs after the company acquired new premises in Dudley Road.
“We are very positive about the south of Durban. There is a pulse down there are it is definitely a magnet for industrial development. However, the practicalities of redevelopment are challenging. As this is an established neighbourhood, one of the chief challenges is how you can marry the requirements of world class first grade warehouses with an existing building short of demolishing and incurring high costs,” Smith says.
Overall, he says being sensitive to tenants needs has been integral to the company’s ability to deliver this year. “We have been able to grow with our tenants and retain and grow tenant relationships to optimize and put value back into the tenant relationship. Our construction arm has improved our ability to deliver promptly. Often tenants need to get in quickly and meeting this need can preclude others from playing in the market. Overall, we focused on delivering added value, not just a building, but also a whole management experience.”
Most importantly, a successful 2013 is a barometer of even better things to come. “We’ve taken a significant view to investing in Durban and believe will continue along a strong growth path. We expect 2014 to be as busy as 2013.”
It comes as no surprise, then, that there are already at least five new projects on the drawing board for 2014.