New-age: Artist impression of the Cheras Sentral. Chee (inset) says only the external walls of Plaza Phoenix are left.
Refurbishing an old building into something new and exciting is always a challenge. But at times, it isn't necessarily the biggest hurdle.
That is reserved for trying to revamp the image of the structure, especially if it has been stigmatised.
The formerly abandoned Plaza Phoenix shopping centre in Cheras is one such example, as it will probably be recognised as an ambitious (at its time of opening) but failed project that everybody today will probably remember for its bad points.
That's where Malaysia Land Properties Sdn Bhd (Mayland) comes in, which has taken upon itself to turn the unsuccessful Plaza Phoenix into a thriving, profit-generating, new-age shopping mall.
“A lot of people still remember it (Plaza Phoenix) as an old, rundown place that failed,” says Mayland retail general manager Michael Chee.
“At that time, the surrounding area in Cheras was not yet matured,” he tells StarBizWeek, adding that accessibility to the mall at the peak of its operations was also a major issue, as roads leading up to the shopping centre were always congested.
“We have a plan on how to market and progress the mall.”
Plaza Phoenix was opened in December 1994 but closed down in August 2005. In 2008, Mayland, helmed by Hong Kong-based hotelier and property developer Tan Sri David Chiu, acquired the mall.
“When we came in, the mall was abandoned and practically falling apart,” Chee recalls.
Since Mayland came into the picture, Plaza Phoenix, which is now known as Cheras Sentral, has been earmarked for a December launch. According to Chee, the mall already has a strong tenant mix to “pull in the crowds.”
“We already have an occupancy rate of about 75% to 80%,” Chee says, adding that the building has a built up area of about one million sq ft.
“For the retail portion, the gross lettable area is only about 500,000 sq ft. About 300,000 sq ft will be for walkways and car parks while the remaining 200,000 sq ft of space will be for the development of a hotel.”
Chee says Cheras Sentral will have around 1,250 car park bays.
Some 450 parking bays from Megan Phoenix, a building located behind Cheras Sentral that comprises office blocks and shop lots, will also be made available to mall-goers.
Among the mall's anchor tenants are TGV Cinemas (which has taken up about 2,000 sq ft), Jaya Grocer (27,000 sq ft), Celebrity Fitness (15,000 sq ft), Moon Palace Chinese Restaurant (20,000 sq ft) and Japan Home Centre (7,000-8,000 sq ft).
Chee says another 7,000 sq ft to 8,000 sq ft has been allocated for space dedicated to information technology products.
“We have Starbucks, Old Town White Coffee and Nandos, among others. We want to pull in the Gen-Y crowd, having lots of entertainment, leisure and food and beverage outlets in Cheras Sentral.”
Chee says Mayland is pumping in some RM125mil to revamp the mall, and with its tenant mix, expects to break even within the next five to six years.
“We may break even sooner than that,” he says, adding that the average rental rate at Cheras Sentral ranges between RM10 and RM15 per sq ft.
“The whole place has been redesigned. We've added a new tunnel to the car park, travelators and also glass elevators to give it a more modern look. It was a complete refurbishment. I think the only thing left (of Plaza Phoenix) are the external walls!”
To Mayland's (and Cheras Sentral's) benefit, the surrounding area has also been earmarked for development. Accessibility has been improved as the roads leading to the mall have been widened to reduce congestion.
Accessibility to the mall will also be enhanced with a proposed mass rapid transit (MRT) station sited across the road and linked via a pedestrian bridge.
“We're especially bullish about the location of Cheras Sentral because of the MRT station that's coming up,” says Chee, adding that MRT Co, the Government body overseeing the Klang Valley MRT, is also developing a multi-level carpark near the station.
“We will also be catering to a much more matured area today compared with when Plaza Phoenix was operating,” he says.
Chee notes that the prices of properties within Cheras had also escalated over the years, boosted by the developments (like the refurbishment of Plaza Phoenix) over the years.
“When we started refurbishing Plaza Phoenix years ago, people were auctioning their offices at Megan Phoenix and the starting price was RM200 per sq ft. Today, the properties are being auctioned off at between RM450 per sq ft and RM500 per sq ft.”
He says other developments had also “sprung up” over the years.
“Developers are also starting to come in and develop property within the area. Our project has improved the value of the offices there. We like to believe that we are the impetus for developers to relook into this place as a potential growth area,” says Chee.
He admits that the new commercial developments coming up within the area will create competition for Cheras Sentral.
“Today, there are malls springing up everywhere like grass after rain. Everyday, there are new brands and designs coming up. Within Cheras you already have Cheras Leisure Mall, Jusco, and Sunway Viva City is also coming up. We have some competition, but competition is always good. Gone are the days when you set up a mall and pray that people will come. Today, you need to be able to pull in the crowd. You need to have the right tenants in the right location for the right people. Otherwise, it becomes a mismatch. (But) we believe that Cheras Sentral has those elements.”
Cheras Sentral's success rate is also underpinned by the fact that Mayland is a unit of Hong Kong-listed Far East Consortium International Ltd.
By The Star