Saturday, December 22, 2007

Isle Of Dreams Just Grows Bigger And Bigger

Source : The Electric New Paper, December 22, 2007

IF size does matter, then Sentosa is on the right track.

Since the island was picked for tourism development back in 1972, it has grown by two thirds of its original size.

Then, the island, known as Pulau Blakang Mati, was 280 hectares. That is about the size of 420 football fields.

By the '80s, it had enlarged to 360 ha.

And from now until next year, it will expand to a total land area of 463 ha.

It has all been in the pursuit of tourism, with bigger and newer attractions forcing the island to spread out.

The latest reclamation programme, which will be along the north shoreline of Sentosa, is to cater to some of the new attractions that Resorts World at Sentosa (RWS) has to offer under its integrated resort development.

The expansion includes two stretches of reclaimed land at the IR, with one starting just beside the Sentosa Gateway Bridge.

The other is at the IR's west zone.

The reclamation works, which started in June, will be finished next year. Currently, about half has been completed.

An RWS spokesman told The New Paper: 'At the west zone, the reclaimed land covers the stretch of man-made beach area right in front of ESPA, a luxury spa and resort.

'Part of the FestiveWalk - the spine of the resort - and part of the Maritime Xperiential Museum will be located on the reclaimed land just beside the Sentosa Gateway Bridge.'

This spectacular expansion of the island has been in progress since 1972 when the Sentosa Leisure Group (SLG), formerly known as Sentosa Development Corporation, was formed to develop the island as a tourist destination.


Throughout the '70s, attractions began sprouting up across the island - a cable car service linking Mount Faber and Sentosa, Fort Siloso and a wax museum.

At the same time, reclamation works were being carried out on Pulau Hantu, Pulau Seletar, Pulau Ringgit, Sisters Island, Lazarus Island and Buran Darat.

In the '80s, the developments didn't stop there, with the opening of the iconic Musical Fountain, a Pioneers of Singapore museum and a ferry terminal for a ferry service from the mainland.

By late '90s, three resorts - Shangri-La's Rasa Sentosa Resort, Sijori Sentosa Resort and NTUC Sentosa Beach Resort - were rolling out their welcome mats for visitors.

In the last few years, rapid development has also changed the shoreline, with clubs such as Cafe Del Mar, the Siloso Beach Resort with seaview villas and dining amenities along Palawan Beach.

But the rapid mushrooming of these new attractions has led to a boom in the island's infrastructure as it braces itself to open up for more tourists.

The RWS is expecting to draw 15million visitors in its first year of operations, with about 40,000 visitors a day.

Last year, Sentosa alone saw 5.7million visitors.

With the opening of RWS in 2010, more than 20 million visitors are expected to visit the island annually.

To cope with the increase in traffic, new roads running parallel to the current Gateway Avenue bridge will be built.

RWS' CEO Mr Tan Hee Teck said the bridge was factored into the resort's blueprint in anticipation of the 'manifold increase' in traffic when the resort opens.

The cost of construction is estimated between $60 million and $80m.

On the new roads, a RWS spokesman said: 'There will be two routes with one direct route (with at least two lanes on each side) for those going to and leaving the IR. The roads will lead to the basement carparks at the IR.

'Another route will be used by those visiting Sentosa.'

With a total of 4,100 carpark lots, some will be located at the six hotels in the resort, below the Universal Studios' lake, and the basement of Le Vie Showroom atFestiveWalk.

The rail service will continue to bring visitors to other parts of Sentosa, with the first stop at Imbiah station near The Merlion.

And although the 18-year-old Sentosa Ferry Terminal was demolished in July to make way for the IR, Sentosa Leisure Group told The New Paper that they do not rule out the possibility of building a new one in the near future.


Dream project: More than half of excavation, piling done

ONCE Resorts World at Sentosa (RWS) swings its doors open to visitors, it's not just those on the island who will get an eyeful.

Across the Sentosa Gateway Bridge, shoppers at VivoCity will have a bird's eye view of two crane-like structures dancing in a multi-media show at FestiveWalk's waterfront.

That is just one part of the resorts' three-zone plan - FestiveWalk in the central zone, Universal Studios in the east and water attractions in the west.

RWS' CEO Mr Tan Hee Teck expects to spend as much as $6 billion to build the resort, up from an earlier estimate of $5.2b.

This new budget includes a contingency provision of $250 million, which also covers improvements to transport and other infrastructure.

With 1,300 construction workers clocking a 24/7-shift, RWS said the IR is on schedule to open in early 2010.

Already, more than 50 per cent of the overall excavation and piling has been completed.

Gillman Heights - Blamed For Doing Nothing

Source : TODAY Weekend, December 22, 2007

Minority owners say NUS should not follow majority in en bloc sale

IT HAS remained silent — and passive — in the protracted saga over the proposed sale of Gillman Heights (picture) to developer CapitaLand for $528 million.

But now, the National University of Singapore (NUS) finds fingers pointing at it after the Strata Titles Board (STB) approved the deal on Friday.

The biggest faction opposed to the deal, comprising 53 of the 76 minority owners, told Today they would appeal against the STB's decision, and chief among their grouses is the NUS' role in the en bloc process.

The university owns almost half of the estate's 608 units, which it rents out to its academic staff.

Said one minority owner: "We are very unhappy and very disappointed with the result. NUS was pressurised by the majority owners to agree to the en bloc sale."

In its grounds of decision, the STB said that it was "very mindful" that the NUS was the single majority owner.

Throughout the sale, the NUS stuck to its original position that it would not take part in the proceedings other than agreeing to abide by the majority decision of the remaining owners, the STB noted. It also ruled that the majority owners had "acted properly" in dealing with the NUS.

However, even after the ruling, some of the minority owners insisted that the NUS should not have followed the decision to sell, based on a simple majority. Instead, it should only do so when at least 80 per cent of the remaining owners agreed to the sale, they argued.

Today understands that the NUS signed the Collective Sale Agreement in June last year, after some 70 per cent of the remaining owners did so.

The university could not be reached for comment at press time.

But Lee & Lee senior partner Quek Mong Hua, who represented the majority owners, said: "There's no reason why NUS should not support the en bloc sale when a big majority of the other owners want the deal."

The STB also had strong words for one of the valuation reports — prepared by a former chief valuer for Overseas Union Bank, Mr Yick Keng Hang — put up by the minority owners. The report revised the value of Gillman Heights from $580 million to $660 million within seven months.

The board, which rejected Mr Yick's evidence, said in its ruling: "Yick had shown himself to be given to hyperbole. A review of his evidence would show that he was shifty and self-serving whenever it suited him."

Launched in February last year, the en bloc sale process — which eventually garnered 86.7-per-cent consent — has been dogged by several controversies, including a dispute over the level of consent needed for the sale to go through.

Barring any appeal, the sale committee has three months to complete the deal.

Sale committee chairman Robert Wiener was "relieved" at the decision.

But he added: "Obviously, we would be happier if we could get our money earlier, what with property prices going through the roof."

Singapore's Last Kampung

Source : The Business Times, December 22, 2007

Threatened by redevelopment, Kampung Buangkok is on borrowed time

CHILLIES and limes grow in a lush garden between colourful cement houses with leaking metal roofs in Kampung Buangkok, a village with no roads or computers.

The sight would be nothing out of the ordinary in much of South-east Asia. But Singapore's last village, nestled in a forest clearing, is an oddity in the sophisticated city-state where skyscrapers and high-speed Internet are the norm.

Simple kampungs - the Malay word for village - were synonymous with disease and poor sanitation when they went out of style as Singapore introduced government housing in the 1960s.

Mass relocations to tower block Housing Development Board (HDB) flats saw the number of kampungs dwindle. Once home to 40 families, sole survivor Kampung Buangkok now houses only 28, who fiercely guard community bonds among arching banana trees.

'I know all my neighbours, we meet every day, doors open. It's not like the HDB flats, where you can live and not know anyone,' said Ramlah binte Kamsah, a secretary in her mid-40s who has lived in the kampung for 40 years.

The village in north-east Singapore, the size of three football fields, has few cars.

'They always ask me if I want to build a road here, but I tell them: no road. Real kampungs don't have roads,' said Sng Mui Hong, owner of the land of Kampung Buangkok, gesturing to the dirt path which runs through the village.

Ms Sng, who is single and in her 50s, inherited the piece of land from her father. While the booming economy and an influx of foreigners has led to a red hot property market, her rates are as low as $6.50 a month - prices maintained for 30 years.

'If you increase the rent and the prices outside go up, how will the people in here cope?' said Ms Sng, who added that most kampung dwellers are poor and shun Singapore's glitzy malls.

Built 60 years ago on low-lying land, the kampung has weathered many floods.

But the biggest danger it faces is not a natural disaster, but Singapore's voracious appetite for land.

In Singapore, history and heritage are often found at the receiving end of a wrecking ball.

The space-starved island, about one third the size of Greater London, has one of the world's highest population densities. For decades, it has reclaimed land from the sea and razed landmarks to make space for development.

'Of course, we want to preserve the kampung - sentimental fools like us. These are the last traces of old Singapore, everything old has been torn down,' said Victor, 51, a blogger who writes about life in old Singapore.

However, a government plan aims to turn the kampung into schools and housing.

'Given the need to optimise the use of land in land-scarce Singapore, it may not be viable to retain the kampung in its current state,' said a spokeswoman from the government redevelopment agency.

Ms Sng has made it clear to private developers that she does not intend to sell her land. But the reality is that she would have to sell the land to the government if required, based on the state's laws. Some villagers fear that they may only have a year left.

Tan Choon Kuan, 75, goes to the kampung every Sunday with his family to paint. His grandson Nicholas Goh, 17, said that the kampung is a 'refreshing change from urban Singapore', as they sat next to half-painted canvasses and smoking mosquito coils.

'I can't do much about the government plans to redevelop the land. But by painting these scenes, I preserve it for the future generations,' Mr Tan said, dabbing brush strokes on a leafy picture. -- Reuters

STB Nod For Gillman Heights En Bloc Sale

Source : The Business Times, December 22, 2007

CAPITALAND and Hotel Properties Ltd (HPL) separately said yesterday that the Strata Titles Board (STB) had given the green light for the en bloc sale of Gillman Heights Condominium. Both cited notification by the vendors' solicitors that approval was given yesterday.

Gillman Heights was sold in February for $548 million, or $19 million above the property's reserve price, to a joint venture formed by CapitaLand, HPL subsidiary HPL Orchard Place Pte Ltd, and two private funds.

Gillman Heights, on Alexandra Road, covers an area of 836,432 square feet and is a 99-year leasehold site. It has a 2.1 plot ratio.

CapitaLand plans to turn the site into a distinctive residential landmark, with about 1,200 homes.

Earlier this month, the much publicised Horizon Towers' en bloc sale was finally approved by STB, after several stops and starts along the way. The delay stemmed from various owners being dissatisfied with the $500 million sale price as the property market began to flourish and property prices started to appreciate steeply, shortly after the sale.

The buyers for the property are HPL and partners Morgan Stanley Real Estate and Qatar Investment Authority.

Another major en bloc sale that was approved this month was that of Farrer Court. In June, a consortium - comprising CapitaLand, HPL and US-based Wachovia Development Corporation - purchased Farrer Court for the massive sum of around $1.34 billion, the biggest amount ever garnered for a collective sale.

The privatised HUDC estate has 618 existing apartments of two sizes - 1,615 square feet and 1,453 square feet. A 36-storey condominium with about 1,500 apartments will be built and it is expected to be launched in the first half of 2009.

Recession Unlikely, Says Goldman's Abby Cohen

Source : The Business Times, December 22, 2007

She thinks moves by central bankers send right signals

(BERLIN) The United States economy is unlikely to slip into recession, Abby Joseph Cohen, chief investment strategist at Goldman Sachs, said in remarks published yesterday.

'That does not mean that the probability of a recession is zero. We just think that a slowing in growth is more likely than a recession,' Ms Cohen told Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.

'The Federal Reserve has shown in recent weeks that it is paying attention and that it wants to boost people's confidence,' she added.

While there was weakness in US housing construction and some areas of private consumption, this would be offset by export growth and corporate investment, she said. Goldman expected US economic growth of 1.8 per cent next year, weaker than other institutions are predicting, she said, adding that the bank nonetheless viewed shares as undervalued.

Some finance companies would report terrible earnings figures for the fourth quarter but Goldman still expected single digit profit growth for next year overall.

The 'fair value' for the Standard & Poors 500 Index of top US companies for the end of 2008 was 1,675 points, up from around 1,460 now, Ms Cohen said.

The Dow Jones industrial average would be around 14,750 at the end of next year, compared with just over 13,000 now, she estimated.

Ms Cohen told the paper that the trend in US inflation would remain moderate. Central banks did not have to worry about wage increases and could concentrate on the current problems on financial markets.

'It's true that over the past week there was some confusion among investors over the Fed's communication but you have to look to the longer term,' she said.

'The decisive factor is that central banks have acted in close cooperation and that is an enormously important signal to the markets as to the availability of liquidity. I am increasingly optimistic: when we are into 2008 everyone will see that the central banks did the right thing.' - Reuters

Retail Sector Rising, But Rents Could Follow Suit

Source : The Business Times, December 22, 2007

Analysts confident that growth in the segment is sustainable

As far as retail space is concerned, the weakening market sentiment now grabbing the headlines might well belong to another planet. Retail rents are expected to rise next year - especially in prime areas such as Orchard Road - fuelled by strong demand and limited prime space.

Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) expects rents to rise between 4.5 and 4.8 per cent in the Orchard area, while CB Richard Ellis (CBRE) is forecasting an increase of 4-8 per cent. And rents at suburban malls could go up 2-5 per cent in 2008, says CBRE.

In Q3 2007, the Orchard area achieved about $40 to $41 per square foot (psf) per month, according to JLL. And for the same quarter, retail rents increased 3.3-3.5 per cent year on year.

With occupancy rates around 95-98 per cent in Orchard Road malls, demand is clearly alive and well.

But Pua Seck Guan, CEO of CapitaLand Retail, CapitaMall Trust Management and CapitaLand Financial, is quick to point out that any increase in rent has to be relative to increases in retailers' takings, so as to ensure sustainable growth.

'Sales this year, over last year, are 5-7 per cent higher due to the economy and sales productivity,' he says. 'Customer traffic has seen a 27 per cent increase over the past four to five years. This outweighs the rent increases.'

According to him, rent renewal rates this year are 12 per cent higher than the expired rent, which he deems reasonable owing to GDP growth and rising inflation. 'Moving forward, we expect to see an 8-12 per cent increase over the next two to three years,' he told BT. The leases are generally three years for specialty stores.

While the injection of new retail space next year will help pace retail rents, take-up is expected to increase with the new supply. CBRE puts new supply for 2008 at 2.57 million sq ft, thanks to upcoming shopping malls such as ION Orchard, Orchard Central and West Coast Plaza.

Consumer spending has been on the rise. According to Citibank economist, Zheng Kit Wei, private consumption rose 4.5 per cent in the first three quarters of this year, which is substantially higher than the 2.5 per cent increase last year. Retail sales are expected to remain robust in the high single digits.

'The unemployment rate has fallen to a 10-year low of 1.7 per cent,' says Mr Zheng. 'Wages have risen almost 7 per cent in the first three quarters of the year, nearly double the 3.2 per cent increase last year. This has put more cash into consumers' pockets and given them greater confidence to spend more.'

Mavis Seow, executive director of retail services for CBRE, says retail sales to date this year total $23.8 billion on the back of the hot property market, optimistic economic outlook and steady stream of tourist arrivals.

And with the launch of the Singapore Flyer and the inaugural Formula One night race next year, as well as the upcoming integrated resorts, sales are expected to keep going strong, if not improve, says Chua Yang Liang, head of research (South East Asia) for JLL.

Retailers, too, are expecting cash registers to ring into the New Year, thanks to the festive season and fat bonuses. Tan Yew Kiat, general manager of homegrown fashion label bYSI, is forecasting a sales increase about 25-30 per cent this Christmas.

bYSI, for one, plans to capitalise on the additional supply of space by launching a flagship store when Orchard Turn opens in October next year.

As for shoppers, they can look forward to new concept stores, flagship stores and new entrants to the market. This year has seen a lot of demand from retailers in terms of new brands compared with last year, says CapitaLand's Mr Pua, who cites examples such as Cortefiel as well as new stand-alone stores like Kate Spade and Agnes B.

'Fashion is on its way up, although I think there's still strong growth for jewellery and watches and even healthcare and beauty products,' he reckons. 'This year has been particularly encouraging across the board.'