City&Country: AM-EL Group building another landmark project

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AM-EL Group is a low-profile developer with a history that goes back more than 30 years. Interestingly, its founder and group managing director Michael K C Low was involved in such landmark projects as Merdeka Square (Dataran Merdeka) in Kuala Lumpur and Dataran Pahlawan in Melaka.

Today, the developer has completed projects across Malaysia worth some RM600 million to RM700 million. Its latest endeavour, which is located in Persiaran Raja Chulan, close to the Bukit Ceylon prime area in Kuala Lumpur and just behind the Bursa Malaysia building, is being managed by two of Low’s children, Simon and Catherine. While both the siblings are group executive directors, Simon is also the senior project director and Catherine the sales and marketing director.

Known as St John Woods Residence, the project comprises two adjoining 33-storey towers. “We were looking for a project name, something that would be a landmark in the area and St John was deemed appropriate due to its proximity to St John’s Institution (Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan St John) just a few minutes away,” explains Simon, who is himself a former student of the established school.

The group had acquired the 0.6-acre leasehold tract three years ago. “The land was initially approved for commercial development but we found that it was more suitable for residential. We believe we have the right ingredients for a project offering unbeatable luxury. Location plays a key role in development and we believe we are offering a project in the right location with the right density,” remarks Simon.

The RM180 million St John Woods is the only new low-density, high-rise development in the area. “The surrounding developments are of high density. In St John Woods, there is only one unit per floor per tower and we are offering huge units,” says Simon. Typical units have 3+1 bedrooms and a built-up of 3,660 sq ft or 4+1 bedrooms and a built-up of 4,489 sq ft.

“We are offering the true meaning of luxury. Luxury means space, low density and exclusivity. We also emphasise security and privacy. Besides, the timing is great for such a project in this area because there is less competition for luxuriously spacious units,” says Simon, adding that the reasonably priced units — starting from RM800 psf — are  expected to attract Malaysians as well as foreigners under the Malaysia My Second Home programme. In comparison, some similar units in the KLCC area average above RM920 psf.

Catherine says there will only be 48 luxury units in the development, each with its own lift lobby and three parking bays.

“The homes will have 270º panoramic views of the KL city centre, the KL Tower and the Bukit Nanas Forest Reserve … beautiful green surroundings. They will come with designer and branded appliances, kitchen cabinets, energy-saving air-conditioning units, fixtures and fittings, and a ceiling height of up to 11 ft,” she adds.

St John Woods Residence is set to be officially launched in March next year.

Upcoming launches

Aside from St John Woods in Kuala Lumpur, AM-EL Group is set to launch a high-rise project comprising two 18-storey towers in the foothills of Maxwell Hill in Taiping sometime this month or in August. “Crystal Creek will be the highest development and the first condominium with a swimming pool in the town. It is also the first gated and guarded development there and will boast two natural waterfalls,” says Simon.

The 132 units in the first tower will be released for sale first. Crystal Creek has a gross development value of RM100 million.

The units, which have a built-up of 1,400 sq ft, are priced at around RM220,000. “I have been asked repeatedly if there is a market for such developments in Taiping. We have been getting a lot of positive feedback on the project, so I do not foresee any problem in selling the units. In fact, I have received calls from people in Kuala Lumpur who want to purchase units for their parents,” Low comments.

The beginning

Low, who started his construction business in 1976, first built 20 units of 2-storey semi-detached homes in Klang in a joint venture with Tan Sri Onn Ismail (current Umno permanent chairman) and went on to develop Taman Tasik Ampang in Ulu Klang where the Flamingo Hotel is located now. According to Low, the 20-acre tract included a 12-acre lake.

His other projects include 106 units of 1-storey bungalows, 538 units of 2-storey terraced houses and shoplots in Taman Desa Jaya in Sungai Petani, Kedah, as well as numerous government contracts to build houses in Terengganu, schools and police stations.

“We decided to start developing our own projects in 1987 after our construction company almost went bust due to non-payment for a job during the recession,” Low explains.

“We built Dataran Merdeka in 1989, with the tallest flagpole in the world. In fact, we devised a mechanism that enabled the flag to move around the pole. There was a competition and we proposed to build Dataran Merdeka with parking facilities underground. We won the competition and received the approval of authorities in 1988. We were supposed to build three underground parking levels.

“However, as the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) was scheduled for September 1990, we didn’t have much time. We managed to complete the project in time for the big meeting but with only one level of underground parking. But even before we completed the development, we received an offer from a company to buy over the whole project,” adds Low, who is a chemical engineer by training and co-founder of Survey Research Malaysia.

According to an article published in City & Country in May 2007, AM-EL Group sold Dataran Merdeka’s development rights and 42-year concession to Land & General Bhd.

The group also sold Dataran Pahlawan in Melaka before it had completed the project. According to Low, the development rights and 89-year parking concession were sold to Singapore-based Hatten Group via Lianbang Ventures Sdn Bhd.

Since then, Low has been busy building all over the country. “In Penang, we built over 1,400 units in mixed-use developments in a joint venture with the Penang Regional Development Authority.”

Aside from factory developments on the island, the developer took over an abandoned residential project called Crystal Prestige in Jalan Free School in George Town in 2001. It is in the final stage of completing the second phase of the development.

Low earned his first million in 1979. “But right now, my children are running the family business. I am just a back-seat driver,” he smiles.

Simon, Low’s only son, returned from the UK in 1990 with a degree in civil and structural engineering. He worked for a consulting firm for several years before joining AM-EL Group as its resident engineer.

“My father called me out of the blue one day and asked angrily, ‘Are you coming over for the management meeting?’ That’s how I started in the family business,” Simon laughs recalling the incident. His first project was to build their two family homes in Tropicana Indah Resort Homes in Petaling Jaya.

Simon then managed the development of the RM13 million Merc Residence in Jalan Bukit Desa, Kuala Lumpur — comprising a high-rise of 36 units — that was completed in 2007. The units have built-ups ranging from 1,021 to 1,317 sq ft and are priced from RM285,880 and RM415,760 or about RM280 psf. Recent secondary transactions of the units were done at RM500 psf.

At the moment, AM-EL Group is focusing on St John Woods Residence, its ongoing developments in Penang as well as the upcoming Crystal Creek in Taiping.

“We are also looking out for potential areas within greater KL and Petaling Jaya to develop a landed residential property within the RM400,000 to RM600,000 range,” Simon says.

This article appeared in City & Country, the property pullout of The Edge Malaysia, Issue 866, July 11-July 17, 2011

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