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Willowtown: Industrial hub links to the past

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The industrial area is on a primary transport route for easy access to national and international markets.

Located on the N3 national freeway between Durban and Gauteng, the city is a regionally important industrial hub, producing aluminium, timber and dairy products, while also possessing a strong commercial and retail component. The CBD houses the Maritzburg Mall as an area along Church Street that has been a thriving retail node for decades.

Further out of the city centre are smaller shopping malls, office blocks and larger retail spaces like the Liberty Midlands Mall.

The Willowtown industrial node on the outskirts of the city raises images of the Willowtown Group, the family-owned business founded in 1970 that has made an indelible mark on South Africa’s oils and margarines market.

However, the area around Ohrtmann Road that today includes the shopping pleasures of Liberty Midlands Mall and the nearby Brookside Mall is more than one business. It is a bustling multitude of economic activities that provides employment opportunities for the provincial capital.

The Illovo Sugar distribution centre dominates a large section of the landscape. Picture: Terry Haywood Photography

Predominantly a heavy industrial node for Pietermaritzburg, the area is one of the city’s earliest industrial developments. Cenprop Real Estate commercial property broker Shanjay Maharaj says property sizes range from 3000m² to 4 hectares and provide for the conduct of large to heavy business.

Food manufacturing features prominently with the Illovo Sugar distribution centre, Willowtown Oil and Cake Mills, Albany Bakery, Sea Lake Industries, Capital Oil Mills, Epol Feed and Molva Foods being just some of the owners and tenants operating within the zone. Other industrialists include Belgotex Carpets, Pfisterer South Africa, Fever Media Group and Peter Maskill Auctioneers.

Juxtaposing the established industrial node are developments built in the past decade on both sides of the N3. These include shopping centres and commercial activities like the McCarthy Renault Pietermaritzburg dealership.

Investors seeking commercial and industrial property opportunities in Willowtown have a fair number of prospects. There is also potential for owners and tenants to invest in upgrading the node as a way of boosting their property values.

Albany Bakery is one of many big businesses situated in Willowtown, Pietermaritzburg.
 Picture: Terry Haywood Photography

Currently, the node displays a lack of loving care with unkempt verges and litter, weeds and builders’ rubble dominating the landscape. These are issues an owners’ association would be able to resolve should businesses work together.

In recent months Cenprop has brought several vacant plots to the market for potential development. The first piece of prime industrial land in Ohrtmann Road covers 27831m² and carries a price tag of R18million. The second is the last piece of land of its size (3762m²) available in the node.

Located near DSV, Willowood Park, Albany Baker, Illovo Sugar, Epol and Mercedes-Benz Commercial, it came on to the market in June for R3.5m.

On the rental market is a 246m² factory or warehousing facility in Baysons Industrial Park for R35/m².

Another relatively new development is Willowood Park, consisting of 21 units in the first phase with rentals between R45/m² and R60/m².

Close to the main arterial routes, the units have good advertising opportunities and promise investors commercial and industrial space outside the congested central business district node.

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