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Saturday, June 13, 2009

Pavilion KL – meeting needs and demands

Pavilion KL has been earmarked by the Tourism Ministry as a tourism asset, testimony to the value it brings to the Golden Triangle and its surrounding areas.

AS the first employee of Kuala Lumpur Pavilion Sdn Bhd when she became its leasing and marketing director nine years ago, chief executive officer for retail, Joyce Yap, certainly knows what it takes to turn a shopping centre into an award-winning destination.

Joyce Yap... The aim is to build the best retail landmark for the city

She was involved in the project planning and designing of the integrated Pavilion KL development from day one.

Yap came on board Kuala Lumpur Pavilion in 2000 and was involved with the project planning and designing team to conceptualise the layout and positioning plans for the shopping centre.

“Right from the project’s conception, we abide by the principle of ‘form follow function’ which needs an indepth understanding of how a retail centre should function and be operated to cater to the needs and demands of all the stakeholders.

“There are many moving targets involved and we are still improving on our hardwares and softwares that include the building facility, environment, customer service, retail mix and merchandise,” she relates in a recent interview.

Yap says the bosses’ priority then was to put together a strong and high calibre team to translate their plans and vision for Pavilion KL into reality.

“The aim is to build the best retail landmark for the city of Kuala Lumpur. We have taken pains to ensure that all our planning, designs and construction are of world-class standards, comparable with the best in the world,” she adds.

The shopping centre opened its doors in October 2007 and a year later, it took home the FIABCI Malaysia Property Award 2008 under the retail category, which qualified it to enter the world-level FIABCI Prix d’Excellence.

On May 29, it brought home the industry’s Oscar – the FIABCI Prix d’Excellence Award 2009, also under the retail category. China’s Shanghai Wanda Plaza in Shanghai emerged as the second best winner.

With the award, Pavilion Kuala Lumpur is now on the map of world-class shopping centres. Other past winners from Malaysia include 1-Utama and Suria KLCC.

The prestigious award recognises projects that excel in the areas of architecture and design, development and construction, community benefits and environmental impact, and financial and marketing.

Yap says Pavilion KL is the first retail centre in Kuala Lumpur to feature sleek and ultra-modern street front duplex stores and home to flagship stores of international designer brands.

“We are currently operating at 100% occupancy with a total 450 tenants. Plans are afoot to expand the retail space by another 30,000 sq ft through the exercise of space planning.

“New stores scheduled to open in the shopping centre in the coming months include international brands like TUMI, Van Laack Swarovski, and Austin Chase Coffee,” she adds.

Yap says international shoppers should not forget Kuala Lumpur as a value-for-money shopping destination that offers a great variety of brands and shopping experience.

“In terms of retail infrastructure, Kuala Lumpur is already at par with other cities like London, Tokyo, Singapore and Hong Kong.

“Malaysia offers the cheapest branded cameras and watches although for certain branded fashion products, our prices are about 5% to 10% higher than the Hong Kong Price Index. The country also has some of the finest airports, roads, hospitals, golf courses and international schools.”

Yap stresses that to give a boost to the country’s retail potential, private retail players and the Government should work closely to package all the resources and promote them to the world.

By The Star (by Angie NG)

Redeveloping and conserving Penang’s heritage

It is long overdue for Penang to come out with holistic and well thought out plans and programmes for the redevelopment and rejuvenation of George Town’s inner city.

Proactive and concerted efforts by the state government, the private sector and Penang folks should be initiated soon for a workable blueprint in order for the state to regain its glory as the “Pearl of the Orient”.

In the drawing up of a blueprint for the redevelopment, it is important that all stakeholders, especially property owners and those living, working, and operating their businesses around the inner city perimeters, be consulted and their concerns duly addressed.

Many Penangites, especially those who are illiterate or don’t have the time to read up on current issues, are still in the dark over Penang’s world heritage status and what it means to them.

George Town was declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) on July 7, 2008.

It will do the people good if those involved in the planning of George Town’s growth and development take the initiative to organise roadshows and public education programmes to highlight the salient points and issues to the people, and at the same time get their feedback for the blueprint.

The state government should come out with a referendum and consult all the stakeholders, business guilds, clans, associations, and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that are working towards conserving Penang’s heritage while ensuring it stays relevant in these modern times.

Although it is important to conserve Penang’s old world charm, rich heritage and culture in keeping with its status as a Unesco World Heritage Site, there should be avenues for the new and modern side of Penang to co-exist with the old to ensure the people’s changing lifestyle and livelihood will not be jeopardised.

As a Penang girl, I am certainly proud of the state’s rich Straits Settlement cum Baba Nyonya heritage and culture that dates back to so many generations of the early settlers from China, India, Indonesia and the Arab continents, among others.

Many Penangites who are now residing in other parts of the country (me included) and overseas always have pangs of nostalgia when recalling their younger days in good old Penang.

Besides the lure of the good Penang cuisines, there are many beautiful historical buildings that were built many centuries ago that are still around in various parts of the island, including the inner city, today.

But there are also many pre-war buildings that are left in very dilapidated conditions after their tenants left those buildings when rentals soared after the repeal of the Rent Control Act in 2000.

Many of these buildings have become hazardous and are unfit for occupancy after their owners failed to upkeep and maintain them.

The introduction of clear and transparent guidelines on what can and cannot be done in the redevelopment of these ageing buildings will revitalise and bring back life to the inner city.

Penang can take a leaf from many cities around the world including London, Sydney and Singapore that have successfully rejuvenated and redeveloped old parts of their cities while maintaining the rich heritage and history for the present and future generations to enjoy.

While many of the historical buildings should be conserved in their current original form such as the restoration of the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion and Khoo Kongsi buildings, those that are too dilapidated should be redeveloped.

Retaining the original facades of these old buildings while allowing new extension annexes within the permissible heights to be built is one practical way of adding value to these buildings.

Buildings that are too old to be restored should make way for new ones that incorporate the elements of Penang’s “old world charm” in the building’s architecture and facade and are within the permissible heights to blend in with the whole environment.

Making known these practical solutions and guidelines that allow room for value adding and reasonable return on investment will encourage the private sector to partake in the inner city’s rejuvenation and inject a new glow and versatility into George Town.

Currently, some interested parties, including NGOs, are taking a very ad-hoc view of how to go about restoring buildings without looking at the big picture of rejuvenating George Town’s inner city.

Instead of opposing every proposed plans, they should offer value added and constructive ideas that are practical and workable.

It is heartening to note that even Unesco has expressed its empathy for Penang folks and has directed its two representatives, David Logan and Giovanni Boccardi, to appraise the situation on how the 18m height restriction for the four hotel projects approved for George Town’s inner city will affect the stakeholders and the people’s livelihood.

Boccardi, who is Paris-based World Heritage Centre chief of unit for East Asia and the Pacific, and Logan, International Council on Monuments and Sites member, were in Penang from April 26 to 30 to meet representatives of the developers of the hotel projects in the Unesco-listed heritage zone.

Their findings are set to be deliberated at the upcoming Unesco World Heritage Committee meeting in Seville, Spain, from June 22 to 30.

The four developers – Asian Global Business Group, Boustead Group, the Low Yat Group and Eastern & Oriental Group have been granted approvals from the Penang Island Municipal Council to build hotels in the heritage zone before it was placed on the Unesco World Heritage List.

With so much at stake, Unesco’s impending decision will put to rest the anxiety of these developers and hopefully, it will be a well thought out and win-win one for all stakeholders.

Meanwhile, instead of directing the four developers to confine the height of their hotels to 18m or five-storeys, the state government should also wait out for the final Unesco decision on the projects.

After all, commercial projects that are viable will generate huge spin-offs to Penang’s economy and create employment for its people.

·Deputy news editor Angie Ng believes that for George Town to thrive as a vibrant heritage city, it is imperative that quality commercial developments that are within the guidelines of its world heritage status and that add value to the city, be encouraged.

By The Star (by Angie Ng)

Spotlight on IDR draws interest in UEM Land

An aerial view of the Johor Administration Centre in Nusajaya.

EARLIER in the week, UEM Group Bhd took the spotlight when news of a lawsuit to the tune of RM840mil by the Qatar government over a dispute regarding a highway project in Qatar came to light.

It appears that UEM Group received a set of legal documents from the state of Qatar on April 27.

The plaintiff, which is Qatar, claimed that the defendants – Parsons International Ltd, UEM Group and Qatar Insurance Co – failed to fulfil contractual obligations in relation to the construction of the Salwa Road in Doha.

They are being sued for 876.32 million riyal (about RM840.98mil).

Sources said Datuk Izzaddin Idris, the newly-appointed managing director and chief executive offcer of UEM Group (effective July 1), was told of the ongoing issue when he was hired, and as such, was “made aware” of the situation.

Izzaddin will be succeeding Datuk Ahmad Pardas Senin, who is retiring, on July 1.

Industry observers believe that Izzaddin has been tasked to troubleshoot certain issues plaguing the group currently.

UEM Land Bhd’s group chairman Tan Sri Ahmad Tajuddin Ali had told reporters after its annual general meeting, that UEM Group would be able to manage the lawsuit.

Afterall, it was merely the contractor for the project, and the second defendant in the lawsuit.

However, as far as UEM Land is concerned, there is no real impact.

Meanwhile, interest in UEM Land has intensified in recent weeks.

Greater bilateral ties with Singapore, and the possibility of a third bridge from Changi to the eastern part of Johor have all but brought the spotlight back to the Iskandar Development Region (IDR) over the last two months.

Naturally, the key beneficiary would be the largest landowner and master developer of Iskandar Malaysia – UEM Land.

It owns 40% or 9,564 acres of the entire land in IDR.

The appeal behind the UEM Land growth story has always been on its appreciating land prices, favourable domestic policies as well as Khazanah Nasional Bhd’s presence to mitigate execution risk.

As it is, land value in Nusajaya have already risen from an average of RM5 to RM8 per square feet (psf) to RM12psf since Iskandar Malaysia was launched in 2006.

Every 10% increase in current land prices raises UEM Land’s revised net asset value by 11%.

There are huge potential revaluation gains for UEM Land from its low land carrying cost of RM4.40psf.

To date, the IDR has attracted RM42bil of development pledges; with actual cumulative investments reaching RM12.9bil.

It has sold approximately 2,476 acres of undeveloped land parcels in Nusajaya to developers, investors and strategic partners.

This is key for initiating a population base for Nusajaya and accelerating the overall pace of its development.

Some of the prominent development projects include Acerinox’s RM5bil steel manufacturing plant, the Johor Administration Centre and the RM650mil Legoland.

“With the Johor Administration Centre launched in April, the development concept of Nusajaya becomes a reality.

We should see increased business activity and a growth in population moving forward,” says a fund manager.

Certainly, while no major developments are expected to be completed in 2010, but by 2011, the IDR should feature a fully operational Nusajaya, which will boast of the New Castle medical school, a partially operational Puteri Harbour, Danga Bay villas, and the Coastal Highway.

The Khazanah-spearheaded Legoland is expected to be operational only in 2012.

An initial optimism for the IDR was when UEM Land successfully attracted international developers such as Limitless LLC and Damac Holdings to participate as strategic partners in Nusajaya.

Limitless and Damac are two of the bigger investors in Nusajaya, with agreements to develop residential and commercial property at Puteri Harbour, the 688-acre crown jewel of the development.

Both have international reputation and solid financial backing.

Herein lies the catalyst.

For the uninitiated, Dubai-based Damac Holdings, is one of the world’s leading luxury waterfront developers.

It plans to build commercial and residential properties and a private marina with a projected gross development value (GDV) of about RM3.8bil in Puteri Harbour, Nusajaya.

Spanning 44 acres, Damac has commited to invest an initial RM397mil for this project to be undertaken over eight to 10 years.

It will be handled by Damac Properties (M) Sdn Bhd, a subsidiary of Damac Properties LLC, the real estate development unit of Damac.

Meanwhile, UEM Land’s joint venture with Limitless is through its development vehicle Haute Properties Sdn Bhd, where it owns a 40% stake.

It was reported that earlier this year, Limitless has already submitted the layout for the 100-acre residential project in Puteri Harbour .

Haute Properties will develop the 111 acres of the precinct with an initial investment of RM241.8mil.

The development was expected to commence in 2008 and will be completed by 2013 with an estimated GDV in excess of RM1.5bil.

While so far there has been indications of both companies retreating on their agreements, observers close to the company says that no fresh funds have poured in for its Nusajaya development in Iskandar Malaysia.

Afterall, both companies have been grappling with their own problems back home, as the global financial crisis burst the bubble of the Middle Eastern property market.

There have been reports of Damac laying off staff at its headquarters in Tecom, Dubai.

According to Khaleej Times, a Dubai-based newspaper, Damac laid off between 45 and 50 employees in February.

The company axed 200 workers in October last year as the global credit crisis has slowly begun to leave its impact on the property sector.

Earlier in the year, there were reports of employees fired by Damac, that were not paid their full settlement.

According t o an analyst, construction work on Damac’s site has yet to begin.

Damac Properties has some US$30bil worth of projects in the Middle East and North Africa region.

On the other hand, Limitless has nine global projects with a total GDV of US$100bil across UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Russia and India.

“I heard that Damac may want to scale back on its development in Nusajaya, as they have bigger problems in their other developments elsewhere,” says one analyst who used to track UEM World Bhd.

By The Star (by Tee Lin Say)