Paramount Corp suspended ahead of material announcement today

Jeffrey Chew

KUALA LUMPUR (Jan 11): Property developer and education service provider Paramount Corp Bhd requested for its shares to be suspended from trading today, ahead of a material announcement, it said in a filing with Bursa Malaysia yesterday.

The announcement came after The Edge weekly’s report on Monday, citing unnamed sources, saying Paramount is disposing of its education arm’s assets to a private real estate investment trust (REIT) as part of its asset-light strategy.

The business weekly also revealed that the private REIT had secured a local pension fund as its cornerstone investor.

In an email reply to the publication, Paramount chief executive officer Jeffrey Chew (pictured) confirmed that the group had found a suitable REIT for the disposal of its education assets, but did not elaborate further.

The publication also reported that the private REIT had edged out two listed REITs, one of which is AmanahRaya REIT, for Paramount’s education assets.

“Both listed REITs offered a good price for the education assets, but Paramount chose the private REIT in the end. It could partly be due to the strong cornerstone investor the private REIT has secured,” it quoted a source.

Paramount’s education business is known for its home-grown brand of schools and colleges established over the last 30 years, namely Sri KDU Schools, KDU College in Petaling Jaya, and KDU University Colleges in Shah Alam and Penang.

It is understood that Paramount will continue to manage the education business.

The group’s education segment contributes about 30% of its revenue and profit before tax, while the remaining major portion is derived from its property arm.

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on Jan 11, 2017. Subscribe to The Edge Financial Daily here.



Rebirth of Swan & Maclaren

Swan & Maclaren

TURNING 125 is a milestone for Singapore’s oldest architectural practice, Swan & Maclaren, which was founded in 1892. While some veteran local architects bemoan the heartbreak of seeing the buildings they designed 30 to 40 years ago become victims of collective sales and replaced by shimmering towers designed by a new generation of architects, Swan & Maclaren has been more fortunate.

Many of its buildings have been gazetted as national monuments and remain landmarks today. Examples are the Fullerton Waterboat House, St Andrew’s Cathedral and the Civilian War Memorial, Stamford House, Tanjong Pagar Railway Station as well as Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall.

Swan & Maclaren itself ran the risk of fading into history a decade ago. A watershed year was 1998, when it beat 29 firms to win a tender for the design of the National Library on Victoria Street. However, the team designing the building split up in 2001, with Malaysian architect Ken Yeang leaving Swan & Maclaren. The library was eventually completed by another firm, and officially opened to the public in July 2005.

“Many of the firm’s partners retired then,” recounts Lim Chai Boon, group director of Swan & Maclaren. “Not enough attention was paid to succession planning, and the practice lapsed into sleep mode.”

Drop-off point

After operating as a sole proprietorship for more than a century until 2010, the firm became a partnership, and was corporatised as a private limited company in 2013. It was restructured in anticipation of regional expansion as well as “next-generation growth”, according to Lim.

He joined the firm in 2011 after spending 19 years with global design firm P&T. Christo­pher Flannery and Rebecca Chua came on board as directors in 2011, followed by
Matthew Hon in 2013, as well as Kevin Ngin and Eugene Wong in 2014. “We all came from different backgrounds and international practices,” says Lim. “We were able to inject fresh ideas and internationalise the firm.”

With this core team in place, the firm was able to expand to China, Malaysia, Thailand and now Vietnam, as well as with projects in Cambodia, India and Sri Lanka, adds Flannery.

Even though the Swan & Maclaren of today is very different from what it was in the past, Lim ensured that the legacy of the firm was not lost. “Swan & Maclaren is still very much a Singapore-based practice,” he says. “And we want to capitalise on its rich heritage.”

Continuing a legacy

Swan & Maclaren wants to build towers for Singapore’s future titans, the way it did in the past. In the 1960s and 1970s, it designed office towers for a new generation of Singapore tycoons. One of them was Hong Leong Building at Raffles Quay, which was completed in 1974 for the Kwek family of Hong Leong Group. The 23-storey City House on Robinson Road was completed in 1983 and became the headquarters of Hong Leong’s listed property company, City Developments.

Swimming pool

It also designed some of the oldest landmarks in Raffles Place, including the former Ocean Building, which was built in 1923. The building was torn down to make way for a modern tower in 1978. Then, in 1992, it was succeeded by the third-generation tower designed in collaboration with Japanese architect Nikken Sekkei. The fourth generation of the building, renamed Ocean Financial Centre, was designed by Pelli Clarke Pelli and completed in 2011.

Another landmark in Raffles Place is the current HSBC Building — the bank’s headquarters — built in 1894 and called Hongkong Bank Chambers. The original structure was designed by Swan & Maclaren. It was torn down and replaced by a Neo-Classical-style tower in 1925. That building stood for more than half a century before it was demolished and replaced by the 21-storey Hong Kong Bank Building in 1978. HSBC Building has been part of CapitaLand Commercial Trust’s portfolio since 2005, and its façade has since been reclad.

“We were involved in the design of the first three generations of HSBC Building and Ocean Building,” says Swan & Maclaren’s Flannery. “The buildings have been modernised over time.”

Heritage hotels still gems

Other buildings designed by Swan & Maclaren that have stood the test of time are the heritage hotels. For instance, Raffles Hotel was built in 1887 and designed by renowned Swan & Mac­laren architect R A J Bidwell. In the course of its 129-year history, Raffles Hotel has had seven
owners, but the building’s majestic façade, the turbaned Sikh doorman and the Singapore Sling at the Long Bar have remained a tradition.

The grand dame will now undergo a restoration, which will include a revamp of its retail and F&B spaces, suites and rooms as well as façade and lobby. It is scheduled for a grand reopening in 2Q2018. The latest owner of Raffles Hotel is AccorHotels, which purchased it as part of FRHI Hotels & Resorts for US$2.9 billion in December 2015.

Goodwood Park Hotel

Goodwood Park Hotel, also designed by Bidwell, was built in 1900 as the Teutonia Club for German expatriate members. It was converted into a hotel in 1929 by Jewish businessman Manasseh Meyer. Banker and hotel owner Khoo Teck Puat purchased Goodwood Park Hotel from Maybank in 1968. Maybank had purchased the property five years earlier. Since coming under the Khoo family, the hotel has been upgraded more than 10 times — most recently in June 2013, when the 77 rooms and suites in the Mayfair Wing were refurbished at an estimated cost of S$2 million.

The latest building designed by Swan & Maclaren is the Sofitel So Singapore, a luxury boutique hotel at the corner of Robinson Road and Boon Tat Street, which opened in June 2014. The historic building was designed by F G Lundon of Swan & Maclaren, and built in 1927 as the Eastern Extension Telegraph Co Building. It subsequently became known as the Cable & Wireless Building, and then became the headquarters of the Telecommunications Authority of Singa­pore, or TAS Building.

The building was conferred conservation status in 2000 and renamed Ogilvy Centre when it became the headquarters of global marketing and communications firm Ogilvy & Mather. The government put up the site on Robinson Road for sale in 2011, and it was purchased by Royal
Group Holdings chairman Asok Kumar Hiranandani and his son Bobby in November that year. After renovation works, with interiors by fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld and award-winning French designer Isabelle Miaja, the hotel opened as the luxury Sofitel So Singapore.

New breed of buildings

Some clients want to create their own version of Raffles Hotel in locations as far away as Lagos, Nigeria’s capital city. This was the case of the Dutch owner of a shipping company who used to travel frequently between Lagos and Singapore. His favourite hotel was the Raffles, where he used to stay, and it was also where he met his Singaporean wife. He asked his staff to find out who designed it and whether the architectural firm was still in existence.

Holland Road Shopping Mall

“He liked Raffles Hotel so much that he wanted to replicate it in Nigeria,” says Flannery. Unfortunately, plummeting oil prices had affected the marine industry in Nigeria, and the project was mothballed.

In Singapore, new condominiums that bear the signature of Swan & Maclaren are located in Pasir Ris in the east. One of them is the newly completed 380-unit Stratum on Elias Road by niche developer Elitist Development, which is already more than 96% sold. The other is the 463-unit Vue 8 Residence at Pasir Ris Heights, by Publique Realty, a joint venture between Capital Development and ZACD Investments. The project is expected to be completed in 1Q2017 and is more than 82% sold.

In Holland Village, Swan & Maclaren designed Raffles Medical Group’s first integrated medical centre, Raffles Holland V, which held its grand opening last October. Adjacent to the Holland Village MRT station, Raffles Holland V is a five-storey commercial development with a 9,000 sq ft medical facility on the top floor and 49,000 sq ft of commercial space on the other floors, which include F&B outlets, banking halls and an upcoming fitness club.

Across the road from Raffles Holland V is the redevelopment of the Holland Road Shopping Mall, dubbed “the Windmill building”. The new development is scheduled for completion by end-2017. The mall’s owner, Eng Tiong Realty, wants to build a new landmark there that will be in keeping with the future buildings at the Holland Village extension white site, on which a mixed-use development with residences, shopping mall and serviced residences will be built. Swan & Maclaren is the architect for the new building that will supersede the “Windmill building”.

Going overseas

Just as Singapore’s property groups are increasingly expanding their footprint around the region, Swan & Maclaren intends to follow suit. For instance, it is not only the designer for Singa­pore-listed Raffles Medical Group’s Raffles Holland V development, but also a new S$310 million (RM957.9 million), 20-storey extension at Raffles Hospital on North Bridge Road that is scheduled for completion in 3Q2017. Swan & Maclaren also designed the Raffles Medical Centre in Shanghai.

Raffles Holland V

It was the appointed architect for some of GSH Corp’s local and overseas projects. For instance, Swan & Maclaren was instrumental in the revamp of GSH Plaza (the former Equity Plaza) on Cecil Street, which now has a sleek new façade. It is also the architect for GSH Corp’s Eaton Residences, a 632-unit luxury condo in Kuala
Lumpur City Centre, as well as its high-end waterfront condo Coral Bay in Sutera Harbour, Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia. In China, Swan & Maclaren is the master plan architect and designer for GSH Corp’s mixed-use development in Fujian, China.

In the past, revenue contribution from local and overseas projects was evenly split, says Swan & Maclaren’s Lim. Over the last 12 to 18 months, however, overseas projects have contributed 60% to 70% to its revenue, with local projects accounting for the rest. “We foresee that next year, Singapore will represent just 20% of our revenue contribution,” he adds.

GSH Plaza

The firm already has projects in Cambodia, China, Malaysia, Myanmar and Vietnam. The architectural firm has an office in Johor Baru and plans to open one in Kuala Lumpur. It has had a practice in Thailand since 2012, in partnership with Thai-based PPS Group.

In Iskandar Malaysia, Swan & Maclaren designed the first two phases of Lang Walker Corp’s Senibong Cove, as well as the neighbouring Senibong Hill, a joint venture between Lang Walker and JMD Investment’s Wang & Wong, an investment firm linked to the family of Singapore fashion brand Charles & Keith.

Swan & Maclaren intends to focus on, among other things, the master planning of large-scale projects, which it has already embarked on in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, as well as Beijing, Fujian and Jiangxi. “We’re building the future on our foundation,” says Lim. “And we do have a very strong foundation — built over 125 years.”

Cecilia Chow is editor of The Edge Property Singapore.

This article first appeared in TheEdgeProperty Singapore, a pullout of The Edge Singapore, on Dec 26, 2016.


Introducing London’s high-end One Nine Elms

One Nine Elms 1

THE London property market has been under scrutiny since before the UK’s vote to leave the European Union (Brexit). The shock and jitters in the property market have subsided somewhat, and the falling pound sterling means better deals for foreign investors.

So, that might make it the right time to introduce One Nine Elms in London, by Dalian Wanda Group — the world’s largest property company — to the Malaysian market.

One Nine Elms is one of the China-based group’s first international projects outside mainland China, according to Tim Gawthorn, Wanda One (UK) Ltd sales and marketing director,

“We (Wanda One) are a direct subsidiary and are spearheading the development, which is a five-star hotel and luxury residences in the Nine Elms regeneration area in Central London,” Gawthorn tells City & Country. He was recently in town for a by-invitation only preview of the property.

Nine Elms, the largest regeneration project in Europe, is where Battersea Power Station — a project familiar to most Malaysians — is located.


“Historically, it’s a 3km stretch along the River Thames that has been massively underused, especially given its central location. There are many other developers breathing new life into the area by bringing new arts and cultural facilities, new residences and high street retail to really bring the area up to the standing it should be,” says Gawthorn.

One Nine Elms comprises the 58-storey City Tower and 43-storey River Tower. Wanda One started selling the development in October 2014 and has achieved a take-up rate of 50%.

“There are 334 units in the City Tower and 103 units in River Tower. The main difference between the two is the hotel, which is located in the River Tower. The hotel will occupy the ground to the 18th floor, while the residences will be from the 19th to the 41st floor, hence the smaller number of apartments,” says Gawthorn.

He notes that City Tower is a standalone development with a full set of its own facilities, including a fully equipped gym, children’s play area, KTV room, cinema screening room, residents lounge and sky terrace, among others.

 “The residences in the River Tower are not managed by the hotel but they will benefit from the services of the hotel. The residents have direct access to the hotel’s gym and swimming pool and can have room service delivered to their units as well as use the turndown service, the concierge and butler services,” says Gawthorn.

Dalian Wanda owns 84 five-star hotels with total of 26,073 rooms and operates the premier five-star Wanda Reign, the luxury five-star Wanda Vista, the five-star Wanda Realm and the four-star Wanda Jin.

 “Being a hotelier, we will maintain and retain the management of the hotel (Wanda Vista) and development as a whole. This is a unique selling point for us,” says Gawthorn.

The development offers one to three-bedroom units, ranging from 667 to 1,748 sq ft in size and priced from £1,750 to £2,200 psf.

 Still an attractive market

Even though the fundamentals of the UK and London property markets have changed since Brexit, the issue of supply and demand remains, says Gawthorn.

 “We need, on average, about 50,000 new homes to be built per year. Last year, we only managed to hit just over 15,000 new homes. If we continue to see this shortfall, the demand and supply issue is not going to go away anytime soon. Nine Elms regeneration as a whole is going to deliver 18,000 to 20,000 new homes, which is still fall short of the targeted new homes per annum,” says Gawthorn.

He believes the constants, such as London’s standing in terms of global education, are still an enormous pull for investors, particularly those who have children coming to study in the UK.

“Central London or London as whole, the bricks-and-mortar investments as we call it, has a cyclical market but the appreciation over the last 10 years has been 84.1% as per the land registry, which is our official benchmark registry in the UK. This has outperformed even gold over the last 10 years. So, as a long-term asset, London is definitely still very attractive.

One Nine Elms 2

“This is a higher-end development. If you look at the super prime central zone like Knightsbridge and Mayfair, you are looking at prices of £3,000 to £5,500 psf. We are between £1,750 and £2,200 psf, so we are at the higher end of central London development. The riverside location is still one of the main attractions for investors in the capital, says Gawthorn.

Although One Nine Elms is a Chinese development, Gawthorn assures that it is built for the local market.

“Our primary focus is always the UK market but we know London is driven quite a lot by the international market. So the primary focus is the UK but there are always opportunities and appetite globally for London properties. One Nine Elms was marketed in the Middle East early this year. The Middle East and Asian markets are really familiar with the concept of our product (and its hotel residential services).

“We are probably seeing about 35% of our buyers coming from London and Europe and we are fairly evenly split between the Middle East, Southeast Asia and China markets. We will probably have more local buyers as we get close to completion, which will be around the end of 2019 or beginning of 2020,” says Gawthorn.

For One Nine Elms, he expects to see about 12% capital appreciation. In fact, prices have appreciated by 14% since selling started in October 2014, he says.

“We have seen steady growth within the market but it has to be steady growth and sustainable. We, as an industry, need to make sure we don’t fall into the pitfalls of 2007 and 2008, when appreciation was very strong, probably a little bit too strong to be sustainable. So, finding that nice level across the market is key to be sustainable,” he concludes.

One Nine Elms 3

This article first appeared in City & Country, a pullout of The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on Jan 2, 2016. Subscribe here for your personal copy.