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Friday, February 17, 2012

Let’s turn JB into iconic waterfront city

It is the magic of the water that should draw you to a waterfront city. Besides that, it is the fun factor and the glitter attached to it that are all too hard to resist.

Venice, Amsterdam and Cape Town are cities that continue to be ever so popular and even Sydney's waterfront has icons like the Opera House, Harbour Bridge and Circular Quay that attracts millions of tourists every year.

A website lists seven interesting waterfront cities that include Spain's San Sebastian “whose promenade stretches from one edge of the arching coast to another littered with a number of parks, cafes, hotels, pavilions and boardwalks''.

Baltimore, Stockholm, Hamburg, Nice, and Porto in Portugal are some of the alluring waterfront cities that capture the travellers' heart.

Closer to home, Johor Baru is in for a rejuvenation into a waterfront city. Hopefully, whatever it is doing will put it on the ranks of the top 10 waterfront cities in time to come.

The idea of transforming JB, among others, was centred on capturing the spin-offs of businesses and traffic into Singapore, which now has a resort element that is attracting visitors by the droves.

Hence Iskandar Malaysia was created. But after five years, are we there yet?

Certainly not, but progress has been made, in some parts more and in others less. A larger part of the rejuvenation means JB needs investors some have come, some have come and left, but the net is still out there to get more as the whole development is just too huge to rely on two, five or even 10 investors.

Iskandar Malaysia has five zones. The city centre falls under Zone A, which includes Danga Bay. This covers the southernmost strip that stretches from the west to east and will be revived into a waterfront gold coast consisting of luxury hotels, condominiums, high-rise offices and tourist attractions. At night, it should stand out like a blanket of glitter overseeing Singapore. The gross development value of Zone A runs into RM80bil for now.

Zone B covers Nusajaya, where UEM Group has huge tracts of land being developed into superb residential areas, with houses there fetching minimum prices of RM400,000. Legoland, which is 60% complete, should open its doors by year end.

Zone C is the western gate of Johor, where a mammoth petrochemical and maritime hub is taking shape. Zone D covers the eastern gate, where Johor Port is located. It will be the learning zone where universities and colleges will be located.

Recently, Danga Bay got a shot in the arm with a RM200mil injection from the Federal Government to jumpstart the project, which will have a marina, cruise terminal, fisherman's wharf, shopping malls, hotels and residential buildings along the Straits of Johor. Perhaps the money is to match what businessman Datuk Lim Kang Hoo the man behind Danga Bay has pumped in over the past 15 years.

There are many more highways and infrastructure being laid out and JB at a glance appears to be bustling with activities. However, the main question is, can all these developments take off the way they were planned and can they generate enough economic activity for sustainability?

For one, Danga Bay is suddenly getting more queries and investor visits but can that be said of the other developments?

The Iskandar Malaysia project will create hundreds to thousands of jobs over the years and the economic spin-offs are really unimaginable for now. However, this is a long-term project and as Lim puts it, “maybe the full completion would not be in my lifetime”.

To make it all happen, everyone involved has to move at lightning speed so that JB can be an attraction for any travellers to Singapore, or else, we may just miss this window of opportunity.

Deputy news editor B.K. Sidhu thinks AirAsia's Tan Sri Tony Fernandes should consider taking over India's Kingfisher Airlines to expand into the Indian sub-continent now that AirAsia has a base in Asia and recently, the Middle East.

By The Star

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