Friday, July 2, 2010

Admiral Hill developer dropped

SLA to look for new developer, gives Yess' sub-tenants until early next year to move out

ADMIRAL Hill was to have been the Dempsey Hill of northern Singapore, a lifestyle hub with a country club, rock-climbing facilities, a golf driving range and beauty and health businesses, among other attractions.

But the future of the project is in doubt: The landlord of the site, the Singapore Land Authority (SLA), has terminated the contract of developer Yess Resorts & Country Club (Yess) for failing to pay the rent.

The SLA will shop for a new developer, and Yess' sub-tenants have until early next year to clear out.

The jury is out, however, on whether there will be new takers for this 4ha site in far-flung Sembawang. Admiral Hill was to have come up around Old Admiralty House, which was built in 1939 to accommodate Royal Navy officers and declared a national monument in 2002.

The project was dogged by problems from the get-go.

Yess clinched the SLA tender to develop the place in 2007 by offering to pay $40,000 a month in rent and on the strength of its proposed plans.

But instead of a 'lifestyle hub', an illegal school and a workers' dormitory came up. Both were ordered shut last year.

When The Straits Times visited the site this week, it was in a state of neglect. Units sat empty and weeds had overrun the place.

Sub-tenants there now were apparently given the impression that Yess was forging ahead with the lifestyle hub.

Mr Al Lim, 39, who owns Chinese restaurant House Kitchen, said Yess claimed it had the SLA's clearance to take on more sub-tenants, so he signed a two-year lease in March and poured more than $100,000 into renovations.

He was thus shocked when the SLA told him two months later that he had to move out this month. He appealed and was given a reprieve until early next year.

He said that when he met Yess last month, it claimed to have been in the dark about the SLA's plans to terminate its contract.

Mr Alan Poh, who opened steamboat restaurant Fat Fish there a year ago on a two-year lease, has a similar tale - and some regrets to go with it, since his business is just starting to take off following an advertising campaign, he said.

A third sub-tenant, Sembawang Family Enrichment Network, signed up for a three-year lease in April last year and put $200,000 into renovations. Its manager Daniel Sum, 56, is now looking for another site. 'It has happened and there's nothing we can do about it,' he said.

The Straits Times understands Yess signed agreements with these new sub-tenants without first asking the SLA for consent, which is illegal.

They are only the latest ones to feel short-changed. Two former sub-tenants who signed contracts with Yess in 2007 have sought legal advice.

Yess refused to comment yesterday.

The Accounting & Corporate Regulatory Authority (Acra) lists it as a 'live company' and names a Mr Lee Kiang Hong as its director. The company is fully owned by the Yess Group.

An SLA spokesman said the Government was not party to sub-tenancy agreements between Yess and its sub-tenants, and that the parties would have to sort out the disputes among themselves.

She urged prospective sub-tenants of state properties to run checks on the tenant. They should also ask the tenant to produce the SLA's written consent for sub-tenancy agreements and seek legal advice before signing a contract.

The spokesman said this is to avoid the scenario in which sub-tenants commit themselves, only to find that their intended business activity is not an approved one for the property, or that the tenure falls outside that of the main tenancy.

With Yess out, the future of Admiral Hill looks none too certain, going by the assessment of Country City Investment, which successfully developed Dempsey Hill in Tanglin Village.

Admiral Hill's problem is its lack of drawing power, said Country City's general manager Nicholas Ng.

Still, how successful it can be will depend on the uses for the plot and the rental, he said; its rundown state, short tenancy agreement and its inaccessibility are factors against it. He said: 'It's not impossible, but it would take a lot of work and capital to make it successful.'

City Country, which lost the 2007 bid to Yess, has no plans to put in a bid again, he added.

Source: Straits Times, 2 Jul 2010

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