Wednesday, July 21, 2010

StarHub Centre ties its lot to the trump card next door

LAST week, CapitaCommercial Trust (CCT) sold its StarHub Centre at Cuppage Road, a 10-storey predominantly office building, to Frasers Centrepoint Ltd for $380 million, a whopping 42.5 per cent above the most recent valuation of the asset as at June 30, 2010.

In January, the trust's manager had already revealed that it had obtained outline planning permission (OPP) from the Urban Redevelopment Authority to change the use of the property to residential (capped at 80 per cent of gross floor area) and commercial use from its current zoning of purely commercial use. The StarHub Centre site has a balance lease term of about 85 years.

The sale took place after an expression of interest exercise followed by a private tender.

Besides Frasers Centrepoint, other parties that took part in the bidding process are said to have included GuocoLand.

What was probably the deal clincher for Frasers Centrepoint is that it did not make major conditions or seek provisions which would give it the right to rescind the purchase of the property. CCT's manager in its release last Friday said StarHub Centre's sale was not subject to any additional planning or redevelopment approval of any kind following the OPP.

Also, the transaction was not subject to approval for a top-up of the site's lease, although it revealed that on July 13, Singapore Land Authority gave in-principle lease upgrade approval to top up the site's lease to 99 years. Frasers Centrepoint also did not require that CCT fulfil the conditions of the in-principle lease upgrade approval.

More options

Frasers Centrepoint could afford not to demand such conditions because of its trump card - majority ownership of the next-door Centrepoint Shopping Centre. The latter fronts the Orchard Road shopping belt and gives Frasers Centrepoint more options than any other bidder that had vied with it for StarHub Centre, which is tucked behind Orchard Road and faces the Central Expressway.

With or without a lease upgrade for StarHub Centre and a redevelopment to a mostly-residential scheme, Frasers Centrepoint can tap more synergies from owning the two properties.

Currently, there is already a second-storey link between the two properties. If SLA proceeds to top up StarHub Centre's lease to 99 years and URA gives the formal nod for the redevelopment of the property into a mainly residential scheme (60 to 80 per cent of gross floor area or GFA) with some commercial space, Frasers Centrepoint can do retail for the balance commercial component (which has to be 20 to 40 per cent of GFA according to the OPP) and integrate it better with Centrepoint Shopping Centre in front.

The residential component could be in the form of apartments - perhaps smallish units that can be sold at relatively high per square foot prices to help fund the retail portion of the redevelopment.

Who knows, the group could even seek and get permission from the authorities and build serviced apartments for the residential component since it has a serviced residences arm.

Frasers Centrepoint can also endure the risks in the event that the authorities don't give the final approval for a lease top-up or if the lease upgrading premium Frasers Centrepoint has to pay the state does not make the lease extension an economically viable option. It may not even be too perturbed if URA does not give further planning approvals for the residential-commercial scheme stated in the OPP. If such a scenario materialises, Frasers Centrepoint may still find it worthwhile to redevelop StarHub Centre into a new full-retail project as an extension to Centrepoint Shopping Centre, which fronts Orchard Road.

Deal waiting to happen

Any other developer would be stuck if a lease upgrade is not granted since it would be difficult to redevelop and build a residential component and hope to sell apartments with 80-plus years' remaining lease. Redeveloping StarHub Centre on the balance lease term into a full-commercial project may not be workable either. As a shopping centre, it is unlikely to do well because of its location, hidden behind the main shopping belt.

Building offices may also not be an attractive venture as office rents in the location are below those in the financial district. As a DMG & Partners Research report notes, 'at the peak of the office market StarHub Centre had an average passing rent of below $5 psf a month, significantly lower than most schemes in the Raffles Places and Tanjong Pagar vicinity'.

That was probably why CCT came to the conclusion that StarHub Centre had reached its optimal stage of life cycle as an office building.

CCT's manager was not keen on exposing the trust to the risks in the residential market by undertaking, either solo or on a joint-venture basis, a redevelopment of StarHub Centre into a predominantly residential project.

Even if the trust had sold the asset to its parent, CapitaLand, the latter would not have had as many options as Frasers Centrepoint does. Put simply, CCT's sale of StarHub Centre to Frasers Centrepoint was a deal just waiting to happen.

Source: Business Times, 21 Jul 2010

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