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Investing in KZN: Umbilo

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Umbilo (or the Zulu form Mbilo, meaning “boiling”) takes its name from the Umbilo River that flows through Pinetown and Queensburgh via the Umbilo canal and eventually into the Durban harbour at Bayhead.

Given its proximity to the traditional Durban CBD, there is little surprise about how and why Umbilo developed into a key neighbourhood with its own sense of community and an eclectic mix of residential and commercial property

Today Umbilo Road traverses 3km as a one-way street across four lanes heading north into the CBD, and its length is lined with residential flats (including eThekwini Municipality subsidised housing), businesses operating from mixed-use buildings, former stand-alone houses converted into commercial premises and larger industrial properties.

A street view down Umbilo Road incorporating one of the large industrial properties. Picture: Terry Haywood Photography

As a mixed node, the neighbourhood of Umbilo is positioned adjacent to the Maydon Wharf industrial node, itself home to prominent national companies and parastatals. The vicinity is comprised of workshops, warehousing, commercial and retail components, the bulk of which are multi-level as they were specifically designed for the clothing and textile industries when Durban was home to these businesses.

In 2014 the eThekwini Municipality announced plans for developing more than 650 high-density residential units in the Umbilo/Congella area catering for the lower-middle income market. The municipality owns the land on which the project was located and is opposite the state-owned King Edward Hospital in Umbilo Road.

According to the Southern Public Transport Corridor Densification Pilot Project – Business Plan King Edward Residential Precinct report, the project aimed to accommodate public and private sector workers and relieve pressure for suitable accommodation in the CBD, Montclair and Umlazi.

The basic concept uses the currently vacant and abandoned Umbilo and Congella Sports Club in Umbilo Road to introduce a compatible, mixed-use high-density cluster that the report said would be a catalyst to regenerate the area.

While the project has not yet gained traction, the report can be viewed as a beacon of light for private sector investors looking for new opportunities. Their developments would have the benefit of dove-tailing with the public sector to maximise the synergies Umbilo broadly and Umbilo Road specifically can offer.

While some properties have no kerb appeal given their sorry state of neglect, this building stands out for its bold colours and upmarket finish. Picture: Terry Haywood Photography

As a reflection of commercial sales along Umbilo Road, one property that came to the market earlier this month has an asking price of R3million for a 600m² industrial building, specifically a ground floor sectional title property.

In January a property currently used as student accommodation and measuring 130m² came to the market for R1.65m. In December a commercial property was advertised for R4.5m. The premises comprise a ground-floor warehouse and first-floor offices in total measuring 1100m². Rents start from R40/m² and depend on the condition of the property. Modernised, refurbished properties are commanding up to R150/m² excluding VAT.

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