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Thursday, February 26, 2009

More commercial hubs for Klang Valley

Planners need to guide enterprises without stiffling initiative

IF, like me, you’d far rather commute an hour than change your baby’s nappy, then the idea of working from home surrounded by your IT gizmos is dead in the water.

It always was a silly New Age idea anyway.

I can’t speak for the female side of the equation, but a man’s office defines his purpose in life.

You don’t slog three years at university just for the privilege of locking yourself in a cubby hole under the stairs at home waiting for e-mail. Maybe that’s an acceptable way of life for asylum seekers and IT consultants but real human beings need real human contact.

The office is your club, your camp fire and your hunting ground. It opens up opportunities for matrimony as well as career advancement. As an employer, I can’t imagine promoting a dehumanised digit living the life of a troglodyte. I’d rather promote my Blackberry.

When it comes to office location, there is now a happy medium between city and suburb.

Up until the late 1980s, if you had an office in PJ your name was probably Klaus and you traded heavy switchgear for a Bavarian gesellschaft. You probably had a beard.

Now some perfectly normal people work in PJ, and Jalan Semangat is transforming into a second St Kilda Road. Take a look at the new Quill building there. It’s superb.

The Petronas Twin Towers still stand at the apex of the office space market. Last deal done was at about RM12.50 per sq ft gross (that’s including service charges, it wasn’t a comment.)

Around the Twin Towers can be found some excellent buildings, including Menara Maxis and Menara Citibank. They are also Grade A and are currently clocking up rents of RM8.50 to RM9 per sq ft per month.

This shift in focus to around KLCC which occurred in the late 1990s was at the expense of the original Jalan P. Ramlee/Sultan Ismail/Raja Chulan area which, in some sections, is now becoming viewed as secondary. This is largely attributable to traffic congestion.

Areas of the Golden Triangle which are gaining popularity include the Tun Razak/Jalan Ampang intersection which has both traffic accessibility as well as an LRT. Here you will find new buildings such as G Tower and The Icon coming up, offering a million sq ft of new space.

Damansara Heights has been a popular office location since the 1960s but other decentralised areas began to take off about the time of the first Proton Saga. There is now just over 24 million sq ft of office space in the Golden Triangle but decentralised areas, including KL Sentral and Mid Valley, have rapidly grown to 20 million sq ft and in other suburban areas along the Klang Valley, you will find 65 buildings with another 12.4 million sq ft. In other words, the Golden Triangle is losing significance.

Kuala Lumpur City Hall is presumably satisfied with this shift which is partly the result of its freeze on new office buildings in the Golden Triangle over 20 stories, imposed since 1997.

As the city grows, new commercial hubs will evolve and it is a continuing challenge for our planners to guide private enterprise without stifling initiative.

Sometimes this produces unexpected results. I have to thank those people at KPMG for moving out of Damansara Heights and into 1 Utama. It was a brave move that surprised many in the industry. For me, it took some cars off the road between me and my office and preserved my average commute time of 10 minutes, although it took some fun out of the journey. (In my imaginary driving game, you get 10 points for hitting an accountant and only two for any motorcyclist. Maiming a personal financial consultant doubles your score, no questions asked.)

Further north from 1 Utama, Mutiara Damansara is fast becoming an office destination and has 500,000 sq ft of space either completed or under construction.

And further north, Damansara Perdana is completing four office towers totaling 800,000 sq ft net and the take-up has been excellent. This was a bold project when it was inaugurated three years ago, and underlines the potential for office space in the suburbs if you get your location and timing right.

It is a pity that the new LRT lines now have difficulty in keeping up with this radial development. In the US and Australia, it was development that followed the rail lines, and not vice-versa.

Nevertheless, the new LRT linking Kota Damansara with the city will be a boon. It will roughly follow the direction of Jalan Damansara. Let’s hope they can keep the traffic flowing underneath while they build it. I don’t want to have to stay at home.

By The Star (by Christopher Boyd)

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