Inspired by the Rockefeller Center
Tradewinds Corp Bhd, one of the largest hotel owners in the country, is ready to make its mark as a noted property developer in the country and the region. It aims to achieve this goal with an iconic project worth a whopping RM5.6 billion in gross development value in Jalan Sultan Ismail in the heart of Kuala Lumpur. Dubbed Tradewinds Centre, the mixed-use development designed by international architecture firm Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates (KPF) will be situated on the 6.9-acre site where Crowne Plaza Mutiara Kuala Lumpur and the adjacent Kompleks Antarabangsa now stand.
The project has five components — a 65-storey Grade A+ office skyscraper, a 54-storey serviced apartment tower next to it, a 14-storey medical centre, a 24-storey corporate office block and a retail podium-cum-central plaza at the centre of the development.
“We want to brand Tradewinds as a property developer and not just a hotel owner-operator and property owner. We decided that we could make an impact by building something unique, which would not only be known in Malaysia but also regionally,” Tradewinds director and adviser (property development) P K Poh tells City & Country in an interview at which group CEO Shaharul Farez Hassan, who is better known as Farez, was also present. Looking across at the site from the rooftop of Tradewinds’ Hotel Istana in Jalan Raja Chulan, we can easily imagine how Tradewinds Centre will change the Kuala Lumpur city skyline.
Tradewinds has 10 hotels in its portfolio, including Hotel Istana, Crowne Plaza Mutiara KL, Hilton Petaling Jaya, Hotel Istana, The Danna Langkawi, Hilton Kuching, Meritus Pelangi Beach Resort & Spa in Langkawi and Mutiara Taman Negara in Pahang. Nine of the 10 hotels are owned by Tradewinds. Its other investment properties include Kompleks Antarabangsa and Menara Tun Razak in Jalan Raja Laut. It also has joint venture property developments in Johor but none comes close to the likes of Tradewinds Centre. Listed on Bursa Malaysia since 1990, Tradewinds has a paid-up capital of RM1.1 billion and total assets worth more than RM3 billion.
According to Farez, Tradewinds will notify its key business partners, especially those of Crowne Plaza Mutiara, of the hotel’s closure after announcing the plans for Tradewinds Centre at its annual general meeting and extraordinary general meeting on June 29. The hotel, which has been in operation for almost 40 years, and the 30-year-old Kompleks Antarabangsa, are planned for closure by Jan 2, 2013, with demolition works expected to start in 2Q2013.
The Crowne Plaza Mutiara was once known as the Kuala Lumpur Hilton, one of the earliest five-star hotels in the country. In 2004, it was refurbished and rebranded as Mutiara Hotel. It subsequently became the Crowne Plaza Mutiara Kuala Lumpur. The 565-room hotel is now managed by InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG).
“We have our hotel staff, for example, who have served us very well and who have been with us for 20 to 30 years. We need to communicate with them and tell them what the future will be like. The closure process will require sacrifices from many parties as well as the understanding of our business partners. We want to give them adequate time and notice,” says Farez. “We are even planning a farewell-cum-New Year’s bash for the hotel. The hotel has a history and I am sure some people would like to say goodbye to it as well. It holds fond memories for many people, including our board of directors.”
Some people may remember the Tin Mine discotheque and also The Paddock Club, which were the places to be back in the 1970s and 1980s. Tradewinds’ redevelopment of its investment buildings began with Menara Tun Razak. The existing 34-storey building is being refurbished while a new 40-storey tower called Menara Tun Razak 2 is being added. This is expected to be completed by end-2015.
“We looked at our property portfolio and we looked at Menara Tun Razak and found that we could add another block to it, so we are doing that. Then we looked at two other properties — Kompleks Antarabangsa and The Crowne Plaza Mutiara Kuala Lumpur — and found that they looked tired. Even Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) asked us to do something about it,” says Poh.
Looking at the location and size of the plot, Tradewinds knew it was an opportunity to build something special. “I went looking for an architect and met quite a few top architects but there was an instant connection when I met the architects at KPF in New York. It was like meeting old friends … we had dinner, opened two bottles of wine and shook hands over dinner.
Tradewinds is not known in the US so we had to convince them to take on our project,” recalls Poh. The former group managing director of public-listed property developer Dijaya Corp Bhd joined Tradewinds upon his retirement and one of his tasks was to help raise the profile of the company’s property development business.
KPF is an expert in designing tall buildings and has won more than 100 international awards. It has designed the Shanghai World Financial Centre, the International Commerce Centre in Hong Kong, Roponggi Hills in Tokyo, the Bishopsgate Tower in London and the Marina Bay Financial Centre in Singapore. Tradewinds’ brief to KPF was simple — the development was to emulate the concept of the famous Rockefeller Center in New York.
The Rockefeller inspiration
The Rockefeller Center or Rockefeller Plaza, comprising 19 commercial buildings on a 22-acre tract, is situated in the centre of midtown Manhattan. The commercial buildings include Radio City Music Hall, Christie’s auction house, the Bank of America building and the Simon & Schuster building. It is a top tourist destination.
“Concept-wise, we like Rockefeller Center. It was created in the 1930s and is still relevant today. What is so exciting about it? You go there and see people from all over the world taking photos of the buildings and enjoying the environment. It has a garden and a sunken plaza with shops. During winter, they set up a small ice-skating rink and during Christmas, there’s this huge Christmas tree. It got me thinking that we lack that in Malaysia. Our buildings are all inward-looking and very exclusive in the sense that the people are kept out of it — it’s our building, our office, our land. When you walk up to a tall building, it can be quite intimidating.
“So we decided that we could create a group of buildings where people in Kuala Lumpur could feel a sense of belonging. Look at the Kuala Lumpur City Centre (KLCC). You see busloads of people taking pictures and the public gets to use the pool or walk around the garden. We do not have the kind of land that they have, but we want to engage the community in a similar way. “We have seven acres, out of which one acre will be allocated for a central grand plaza,” says Poh.
Central Grand Plaza
The concept of the Central Grand Plaza is akin to that of the sunken plaza in Rockefeller Center. It takes advantage of the project’s two frontages — Jalan Sultan Ismail and Jalan Tun Perak — so that the public have easy access. “You can enter from either road and immediately, you are within the project,” Poh says, adding that people can also walk through to get to KLCC.
He foresees people entering the plaza and taking pictures and enjoying the breeze and landscaping. It can also be used for New Year countdowns or other festive events. The project will be pedestrian-friendly as it will be connected to the existing elevated walkways in Jalan Perak.
“I don’t think the height of our building — 65 storeys — will be the main feature of the development,” says Farez. “The focus, once it is completed, will be the experience at ground or street level. All the great buildings in the world have this street level presence where everyone is comfortable walking into the development.
“With better public transport, we have to anticipate more people visiting the development by foot or at street level. So, it is important for us to make them feel welcome. We feel that it will be something Malaysians will be really proud of once it is completed.” Farez expects the development to cost RM2.6 billion and take seven to eight years to complete.
Tradewinds plans to obtain MSC status and green certification for the development and is looking at Malaysia’s Green Building Index, the US’ Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and/or Singapore’s Building and Construction Authority’s Green Mark to get at least a gold rating.
The buildings in Tradewinds Centre will take up 46% of the land area and will be designed to look like elegant, multifaceted sculptures that look different, with the passage of the sun. There will be a “skin” on the exterior of the buildings that works as a sunscreen while giving them a unique webbed look.
The total net lettable area (NLA) of the offices will be 2.64 million sq ft while the retail podium will have an NLA of 150,000 sq ft. The office tower has an observation deck and will offer a column-free core-to-exterior span, which allows for a large floor plate of more than 20,000 sq ft. The serviced apartments will be the only component for sale, with built-ups possibly ranging from 800 to 2,000 sq ft.
Poh reveals that two foreign companies have approached Tradewinds to be partners in the development but the developer has decided to build it on its own. Says Farez: “Our plot is sizeable, considering its location within the Kuala Lumpur city centre. We want the whole project to be a destination. This development is more to us than just a business proposition.
It is what we stand for as a builder and property investor going forward. With the exception of the serviced apartments, we will retain the rest of the development for investment. It is therefore a long-term play on a key area in Kuala Lumpur over which we would like to retain some ownership.”
“It’s the element of presence and branding for the future of the company, which this development stands for,” Poh chips in.
Farez continues: “There is a lot of talk of office oversupply, but we feel that the components we are putting together are not for today, not for the next year or for the next four years … they are for longer than that. You can only really achieve that if you have the determination to hold onto the asset for the long term. In fact, Grade A+ office buildings like these are in quite short supply here.”
Tradewinds Centre could be built in phases, depending on the market climate. “For now, we plan to build everything at the same time. A lot of people try to time the market. It is not possible for a project that lasts seven or eight years. We might as well go ahead and do what we want to do. All the major buildings around the world are like that,” says Poh.
Tradewinds has a total landbank of over 4,000 acres in Kuala Lumpur, Johor Baru and Penang. “We are constantly reviewing our properties and we think that maybe once we start Tradewinds Centre, some landowners may approach us to develop their properties,” Poh says, adding that the developer also has some plans for Langkawi. On whether Hotel Istana will be redeveloped next, Farez says there are no current plans for the hotel. Tradewinds has also offered to participate in the redevelopment of UDA Holdings’ Bukit Bintang Plaza in Jalan Bukit Bintang.
This article appeared in City & Country, the property pullout of The Edge Malaysia, Issue 917, July 2-8, 2012