Wednesday, May 26, 2010

KTM land parcels send out a tingle of excitement

All eyes on site at Tanjong Pagar as observers sketch out the possibilities

(SINGAPORE) Just a day after the prime ministers of Singapore and Malaysia announced that six Malaysia- owned land parcels here would be jointly redeveloped, the market was abuzz with the possibilities awaiting these prime plots of real estate estimated to be worth billions of dollars.

The 'crown jewel' among them is a 16-hectare site in downtown Tanjong Pagar, sitting just a stone's throw from the Republic's busy financial district. The area is also where the 78-year-old Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) railway station is currently located. It will be shifted to the Woodlands Train Checkpoint by July next year.

Property veteran Nicholas Mak, a real estate lecturer at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, said that one possibility for the railway building - which will be conserved because of its historical significance - could be to turn it into a historical hotel similar to the iconic Fullerton Hotel in Raffles Place.

'The site and the surrounding areas where the railway tracks run are very large. By my own estimates we could be looking at several million square feet of potential built-up area,' he told BT yesterday. 'We could see a combination of offices, shops, retail space, as well as some apartments and condominiums. I wouldn't be surprised if the land is eventually carved up into several smaller parcels.'

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is now awaiting an updated valuation of the railway land, after which he will visit his Malaysian counterpart Najib Razak in Kuala Lumpur next month to discuss the swap of the railway land for other real estate in Singapore.

Between them, the six parcels of land span more than 200 hectares, according to Malaysian media reports. Apart from Tanjong Pagar, the other land parcels include one each in Kranji and Woodlands, and three in Bukit Timah.

Cushman & Wakefield managing director Donald Han said that it would make sound business sense for Malaysia to consider swapping Tanjong Pagar for a more urban and developed location such as the Ophir-Rochor area because of the greater potential in enhancing people connectivity.

'The Rochor area has hotels and shopping centres. So there is complementary potential for Malaysia to build and create more attractions for their citizens who want to come to Singapore,' said Mr Han.

While not much is known about exactly where the land parcels in Kranji or Woodlands are, two of the three Bukit Timah sites are likely to be a vacant plot and another that is currently housing workers' quarters near Methodist Girls' School, said Mr Mak. Both are likely to be used for residential purposes owing to their small size.

On Monday, Mr Lee and Mr Najib announced that a new private company set up by the two countries' sovereign wealth funds - Khazanah Nasional and Temasek Holdings - will take charge of the Tanjong Pagar land and five other sprawling plots.

Mr Mak ventured that the joint company, called M-S Pte Ltd, could well decide to allow private developers to take charge of building up the land once the master plan is completed. 'It's a much neater way to do things. The company decides what to do with the land, and then sells it in an open tender afterwards. This is a cleaner way to extract the highest value from the land with minimum hassle,' he said.

Efforts to contact KTM yesterday for comments were unsuccessful. Singapore's Foreign Affairs Ministry, which is handling all local media queries regarding Malaysia's railway land, was unable to respond to BT's queries by press time.

Source: Business Times, 26 May 2010

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