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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Penang hotel projects on, Unesco guidelines awaited

The four hotel development projects on Penang island, which have been in question for allegedly contravening height restrictions in George Town's heritage zone, have not been scrapped.

Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng yesterday said the state authorities and affected developers are awaiting guidelines from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) on whether any changes should be made to the project plans.

"The developers fully understand that legally, the projects can still proceed, although Unesco needs to state if any modifications are needed. Penang needs these projects (investments) to offset the oncoming economic recession," he told a press conference at his office in George Town.

Lim said the four project developers - Boustead Holdings Sdn Bhd, Asia Global Business Sdn Bhd, E & O Bhd and the Low Yat Group - were unhappy when they heard in November that George Town's place on Unesco's World Heritage List was in jeo-pardy due to their projects.

The four projects were approved before George Town was inscribed on the heritage list. Two are AGB's Rice Miller boutique hotel in Weld Quay and the Boustead Royale Bintang Hotel project behind the General Post Office in Lebuh Downing, both lying in the heritage core zone.
The other two are E & O Hotel's extension and a 23-storey hotel in Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah by the Low Yat Group in the buffer zone, both of which will be 84.4m high.

The World Heritage Committee (which administers Unesco's World Heritage programme) stipulates in its guidelines that a maximum height of 18m (or roughly five storeys) have been set for buildings on the island's heritage core and buffer zones.

"Since the approval for all four projects were based on Unesco's guidelines," noted Lim, "either all four projects stay or none at all".

Several property developers in Penang have already announced plans to defer their projects in the state, in the face of uncertain economic times.

E & O Bhd last month announced that it is reviewing its property development launches amid the current economic slowdown, and will delay the launch of the first phase of the Seri Tanjung Pinang condominiums in Penang.

The first phase was to have been launched during the company's current fiscal year ending March 31 2009. The new targeted launch date has since been pushed to the third quarter of next year.

Hunza Properties Bhd is also delaying the construction of its Gurney Paragon shopping mall in Pulau Tikus, while awaiting prices of construction costs and material prices to come down.

By Business Times (by Marina Emmanuel)

Manhattan housing up in 4Q, but luxury market down

NEW YORK (AP) - In what seemed like a New York-minute, prices of luxury homes in Manhattan are suddenly falling.

One penthouse owner on Central Park West repeatedly slashed the asking price down to $9.9 million from an original $16.5 million - and still no takers.

"Up through the end of this summer, there were almost two markets in Manhattan, the high-end and everything else,'' said Jonathan Miller, president and chief executive of Miller Samuel Inc., a real estate appraisal and consulting firm.

That all changed after Sept. 7 when the government seized control of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the mortgage finance giants.

"People started thinking the high-end market is just as vulnerable as the rest,'' Miller said.

The median sales price of a luxury apartment slipped nearly 4 percent to $4,022,000 between October and December compared with the same period a year ago, according to Prudential Douglas Elliman's quarterly report released Tuesday.

The report defines the luxury market as the upper 10 percent of sales prices.

The market held up better for the merely somewhat-rich.

The median price for all Manhattan apartments - $900,000 - gained almost 6 percent in the quarter, the report said.

Another report from Brown Harris Stevens, also released Tuesday, showed the median sales price rose nearly 8 percent during the quarter.

But each report shows a weakening market overall.

Inventory has soared and sales volume has slowed. And this is likely just the beginning.

"Most of these (fourth-quarter) sales were negotiated before Lehman Brothers collapsed. The anxiety has intensified. We'll see more of an effect in the upcoming quarters,'' said Gregory Hyman, chief economist at Brown Harris Stevens.

The luxury market started to totter in September when the stock markets tanked and major Wall Street firms started to vanish.

Wealthy homeowners have since cut their asking prices, trying to move properties before the bleeding gets worse.

"You've got a market where suddenly people don't have the wealth they had before.

Those who helped to build Wall Street to the stratosphere don't know what their futures look like now,'' said Rick Goodwin, publisher of Ultimate Homes and its parent publication Unique Homes.

Nearly 42 percent of the 259 Manhattan homes currently listed for $10 million or more were dumped on the market since September, according to, a New York City listings web site.

Flippers at 15 Central Park West, dubbed the "Hedge Fund building,'' and other new condo buildings like The Plaza and Trump Park Avenue are trying to unload their investments.

Last year, 69 sellers with properties listed for $10 million or more cut their prices - 59 of them were in September or after.

There were only 17 price increases last year, according to

But the reductions could be in vain.

"Those who can afford to buy these properties, they're thinking it doesn't feel right to put $20 million into real estate right now,'' Goodwin said.

Wall Street's weekend homes are also feeling the pinch.

More homeowners in the posh Long Island towns known as the Hamptons are pulling their properties off the market and booking summer renters for cash flow, said Judi Desiderio of Town & Country.

She estimates the summer rental supply has increased 10 percent over last year.

Sales volume in the Hamptons has also slowed this year, but the Wall Street turmoil in September "broke the logjam'' of the buyer-seller standoff, said Gary Persia.

A flurry of sales between $2.5 million and $8 million closed in the weeks following Lehman's bankruptcy as sellers decided it would be better to negotiate on price than to wait.

"No one walked away with a wash,'' Persia said.

"But were they at prices that (the sellers) anticipated in the spring? No.''

But both Persia and Desiderio see opportunity for the superrich to snap up Hamptons homes at favorable prices.

The so-called "East End dirt'' is safer to put money into than investing cash in the stock market or depositing it in major banks, which could disappear overnight, they point out.

The luxury home market, which is loosely defined depending on locale, is showing cracks nationwide.

While prices held steady at the end of the year, according to ILHM Luxury Housing Report released late last month, the number of days a property stays on the market, an average of 147 days, has shot up since September.

Ronna Brand, president of Brand Realty Inc. in Beverly Hills, California, said home sales over $10 million in the swanky neighborhoods of Beverly Hills and Malibu are slowing and luxury buyers are taking more time to consider their purchases.

She noted that some of her clients took big hits to their stock portfolios recently and quickly got into cash positions.

"Even the rarified atmosphere of the superrich,'' she said, "is a little thinner.''

By The Star

Resorts World at Sentosa to open in 2010

PETALING JAYA: Genting International plc’s unit Resorts World at Sentosa Pte Ltd will embark on an aggressive marketing campaign to build awareness about its integrated resort in Sentosa Island slated to open in 2010.

Assistant vice-president Robin Goh said the company would be “casting its net far” and aggressively promoting the resort to Malaysia, China, India, Indonesia and Thailand.

Robin Goh

“It will be robust as we have one year to the opening of our doors,” he told StarBiz.

While he did not elaborate on the amount allocated for the awareness campaign, he said it would be a “sizeable amount running into the millions.”

He said the advertising blueprint was still being reviewed.

“We will be heavy on advertising, be it basic or supporting media. We will organise roadshows and take part in trade shows organised by ourselves or parent company Genting.

“Of course by the second half of 2009, we will reveal our hotel and ride rates,” he said.

Goh said the company was forging ahead with confidence despite the lacklustre economy. “We need good reason for people to come to this part of the world,” he said.

The 49ha mega resort is on track to welcoming 15 million visitors in its first year of operations. The S$6bil Resorts World at Sentosa, developed by Genting International, will boast the first and only Universal Studios theme park in South-East Asia, Marine Life Park, Maritime Xperiential Museum and six world-class hotels.

Goh said the first four hotels to open would be Hotel Michael, Maxims Tower, The Hard Rock Hotel and Festive Hotel.

By The Star (by Eileen Hee)