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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Old is gold on Weld Quay

Constructive reuse of 19th century buildings along Weld Quay set to change Georgetown

“MAKING urban environments livable” - that is the motto of tourism and property development company Asian Global Business Sdn Bhd (AGB), whose maiden and flagship project, Pier at Weld Quay, is set to change the face of Georgetown, Penang, and bring vibrancy back to the city centre.

Incorporated in 1998, AGB claims to be different from conventional property developers as it also aims to create a place for visitors to come and soak up new experiences. Its founder and chief executive officer Dr Noraini Abdullah (pix), says the group recognises the value of heritage tourism in Penang and is focusing on that with this project.

The Pier at Weld Quay will offer new products surrounded by revitalised, existing old buildings

“The Pier at Weld Quay enjoys the entire landscape of Georgetown’s heritage — we will conserve the (six existing) 19th century buildings while constructing new structures.

We are working closely with our architects and heritage conservation and environment planner with the aim of revitalising the historic resources on the site,” she told PropertyPlus.

With the cultural agenda booming in Europe and Asia, where the revival in one's consciousness about history and heritage has given birth to new market niches in the tourism industry, Noraini said Pier at Weld Quay would combine a unique blend of heritage, social, cultural and design forces and be a vibrant urban centre for residents and visitors when complete in 2010.

When negotiations for the 3.2-acre piece of freehold land first began in 2004, the developer encountered some minor problems acquiring it. According to Noraini, “Penang landowners are not known for selling despite being offered a high price”. Many were skeptical over her decision as Georgetown was considered a “dead” area with most of the buildings in various states of decay.

“Between 2004 and 2006, tourism figures were not promising, with Penang losing out to islands like Phuket and Bali and most developers preferring areas on the northeast side of the island such as Batu Ferringhi, Pulau Tikus and Queensbay.

“However, unlike other property developers, we have a pioneering spirit and see an opportunity in Georgetown. We believe we can come up with an inner-city waterfront resort, which would become a major business and commercial hub and breathe new life into the area,” she added.

An artist's impression of the boutique Rice Miller hotel

The Pier at Weld Quay comprises a 100-room boutique hotel called “The RiceMiller”, a 100,000 sq ft commercial plaza, 160,000 sq ft of retail podium, 23 small office home office (SOHO) townhouses, and 105 units of city suites. Built-ups range from 1,500 sq ft to 3,000 sq ft, with pricing at about RM700 psf. A groundbreaking ceremony is expected in March, with the residential units to be launched in the third quarter.

Noraini said the project is helped by its strategic location along Lebuh Pantai-Gat Lebuh China and Weld Quay, which is across the Tanjung City Marina and minutes away from Swettenham Pier. “The development would complement these tourist destinations by bringing in much needed support services," she said.

The development is targeted at locals and foreigners, retired or retiring

The project has a gross development value of RM500 million and was inspired by other world-renowned waterfront developments like London’s Canary Wharf, Downtown Seattle, The Rocks at Sydney’s harbourfront and Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.

Being a new player in the industry, Noraini said AGB had to be bold in order to make a statement. “With competitors such as E & O and SP Setia, we would need to market just as hard, if not harder, in order to sell our products."

However, she is unfazed by her competitors as the group is offering a product that was the result of a lot of market research and study. “Trends in society are changing and more are looking for lifestyle and quality living, and we are offering that here. Providing good customer service is just as important," she said.

The Pier at Weld Quay is targeted at locals and foreigners that have retired or are looking to retire. “In recent years, many foreigners have applied for the Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) programme in Penang, consisting of a fair number of Germans, British, as well as
Malaysians who have gone abroad to work but are coming back to retire,” Noraini said.

AGB held a preview of the project in Singapore late last year, the developer said, which received
substantial interest and support there. “We wanted to test the global market and chose Singapore because it is a cosmopolitan city. It is a good way to find out how Pier at Weld Quay compares with other projects and the response was beyond expectations,” she shared.

On its future projects, Noraini said the group would like to be involved in other developments
with historic resources similar to those found in Georgetown, particularly in neighbouring
islands in the region.

“However, our immediate objective is to ensure the success of Pier at Weld Quay, not just during construction but also after its completion,” she added.

By theSun (by Yap Yew Jin)