In a dusty little corner down at Durban City Hall, in the economics or planning department, one hopes there is a wall of photographs celebrating the accomplishment of successful private property developers in eThekwini.
Make no mistake, there are rogue property developers and ghastly monuments to their corruption in Durban. But the city is also blessed with an enviable collection of talent in the private sector.
This includes visionaries and honest, dutiful men and women doing their best in a tough economy.
The development of Umhlanga and Riverhorse are the result of public private partnerships between the city and Tongaat Hulett. So too is Cornubia. They are cleverly designed with end users in mind. And they are beautifully landscaped spaces that have massively improved Durban’s economic prospects.
Running parallel to these public-private-partnerships are fantastic solo projects undertaken by single developers entirely on risk.
JT Ross totally transformed the Umgeni Road area some years ago and created a sought after precinct through the redevelopment of the historic Lion Match factory. It has spurred a revival in the neighbourhood. Look at the hipster development in Station Road.
In the last six months, JT Ross has shifted up a gear on two new developments in key areas – Glen Anil, north of the CBD and in Sydney Road, south of the city.
The Sydney Road property is as historic as Lion Match and if JT Ross does anything similar to what it has done in Umgeni Road, it will lead to welcome regeneration of the back of port area.
JT Ross has bought the old Dunlop Plant in Sydney Road, slap bang in what used to be the heart of Durban’s harbour economy. Railway lines separate the real estate gem from frontline bay properties like the Sugar Terminals.
There is a big opportunity to create modern logistics facilities out of old port warehouses. JT Ross development director Grant Smith says the location, close to the harbour, made the purchase a no brainer.
The company plans to extract 80 000m2 in rentable area, plus a 4000m2 office block that might be remodeled to cater for start-up firms that need small workspaces, high broadband and shared facilities, like in Station Road.
JT Ross has already started landscaping and remodeling the site. It is cleaning out the old canal that runs through a portion of the site and expects the entire development to be done by about September.
Says Smith: “265 Sydney Road is unique in its history, size and location. The iconic building is over 100 years old and lies on the fringe of Glenwood’s suburbs, close to Maydon Wharf and on the arterial routes in and out of the CBD.
“Its placement is set to attract logistics and distribution tenants who benefit from the proximity to the harbour. The office block associated with the site has a certain retro charm to it and would ideally serve a creative and functional type of office tenant. In the heart of Umbilo, the site should promote regeneration. The intention is to uplift the area.”
In Glen Anil, JT Ross has purchased the last remaining undeveloped hill on the seaside of the N2. The company has named it “Rohill” and it is a hidden gem at the top of old North Coast Road. It is a stone’s throw from the interchange that leads to KwaMashu, Bridge City and the N2 to Cornubia, Mount Edgecombe and Gateway.
The Glen Anil area is in dire need of a revamp. Colombine Crescent is choked with traffic and many business premises at the top of North Coast Road could do with a spit and polish.
The Rohill site is 60ha but Smith says it will render platforms for 150 000m² of industrial buildings.
“We view this as a long-term project, driven partly by tenant interest and the size of enquiries. The successful Riverside Business Park which we developed close to the Glen Anil site (in Riverhorse) took about five years to fully complete.”
Investment in Rohill, says Smith, will run into hundreds of millions of rands. “The site is close to the airport and en route to the harbour. JT Ross is in a position to provide world-class facilities to growing logistics firms expanding their operation in KwaZulu-Natal.”
Both Sydney Road and Rohill, Smith says, could revitalize their surroundings and see a blossoming of each.
“We welcome the opportunity to uplift and enhance some of the older business areas in Durban,” he said.
Trevor Martin, broker manager for JHI, lauded the developments. “This city benefits enormously from big, independent property developers like JT Ross. They are trailblazers. They spot the opportunity early, have the resources to develop solo and their developments are good. They act as catalysts and set the tone of the neigbourhood they invest in.
“I’d estimate that if you are a lucky neighbour in Sydney Road, the price of your building will rise from about R6000/m2 to R8000/m2 if you are close to the Dunlop site. In Glen Anil it’s a safe bet to say you’d see a similar increase on the same prices in a year or two.”