AWARDS: GuocoLand’s Cheng vindicated as Wallich Residence, Martin Modern break new ground in luxury living

/ EdgeProp Singapore
October 15, 2018 3:21 AM SGT
For Cheng Hsing Yao, group managing director of GuocoLand Singapore, what is more satisfying than the many accolades that Tanjong Pagar Centre has received is the fact that the integrated development has become both a physical and social landmark in Tanjong Pagar. “We said we wanted to transform the district and we did,” he says. “It has even exceeded our expectations.”
Prior to the $3.2 billion Tanjong Pagar Centre, there was no Grade-A office space nor five-star hotel offering in the district. Tanjong Pagar Cente delivered a Grade-A skyscraper in the form of the 38-storey Guoco Tower and the luxury 223-room Sofitel Singapore City Centre. Perched on top of Guoco Tower is also a luxury residential offering, the 181-unit Wallich Residence.
Cheng: We said we wanted to transform the district and we did. It has even exceeded our expectations (Credit: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
The project won six awards and GuocoLand garnered the title of Top Developer at the EdgeProp Singapore Excellence Awards 2018 on Oct 3.
It is no surprise that Cheng recently came across property advertisements for office space for sale in the Cecil Street and Robinson Road area in the CBD claiming to be part of Tanjong Pagar. “Obviously, people see value in the association now,” he says.
It was not always the case. In January 2016, at Guoco Tower’s topping-out ceremony, only 10% of the 890,000 sq ft office space was pre-committed. When the tower was completed 10 months later, the take-up rate had soared to 80%. Today, it is almost 100%.
“A large proportion of the companies that are tenants of Guoco Tower today are tech companies and others who had the vision to move into an area that wasn’t tried and tested then,” Cheng says.
Tanjong Pagar Centre is GuocoLand’s flagship property and houses the group’s headquarters (Credit: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
Tanjong Pagar was always a historical area, but close to a decade ago, it lacked a strong positioning, he adds. As part of URA’s plan to transform Tanjong Pagar, the statutory board launched the sale of a prime, white site in the heart of the district in 2010.

Community, business hub

GuocoLand won the tender for the white site with a bid of $1.708 billion in 2011. URA’s tender called for a public space of at least 1,000 sq m (10,764 sq ft) and a retail podium sitting on top of the Tanjong Pagar MRT station. “That would have made the most commercial sense,” says Cheng. “But we went above and beyond the URA requirement to create a 150,000 sq ft urban park. We wanted to create a community hub to en- gage everyone in the Tanjong Pagar neighbourhood.”
Beyond a community hub, GuocoLand’s ambition was also to turn Tanjong Pagar Centre into a business hub. It was thus important that the hotel be a recognised international, five-star brand like Sofitel Singapore City Centre, which comes with offerings such as a café, lounge, coffee place, bar, restaurants, meeting rooms and a grand ballroom. “The hotel is an important element that supports the entire offering,” says Cheng. “Beyond our corporate tenants at Guoco Tower, the hotel serves a greater purpose — for MICE activities and as a gathering place for businessmen and professionals from around the CBD.”
Tanjong Pagar Centre is GuocoLand’s flagship property and houses the group’s headquarters. Wallich Residence sits on top of Guoco Tower and spans the 39th to 64th floors. The 280m tower has earned Tanjong Pagar Centre the title of “tallest skyscraper in Singapore”.
Wallich Residence is not just another residential project but represents “the pinnacle of Tanjong Pagar Centre" (Credit: GuocoLand)
For GuocoLand, Wallich Residence is not just another residential project but represents “the pinnacle of Tanjong Pagar Centre”, says Cheng. Experiencing the views from the facilities deck on the 39th floor of Wallich Residence is equivalent to being on top of a mountain or a 50-storey building. “You have sky gardens, amazing views, a prestigious address and exclusivity,” he adds. “It’s more than just a luxury residence. It’s exclusive and yet connected: The lift brings you to the MRT station or to the offices at Guoco Tower, or you can walk over to the lounge at Sofitel. It’s a different form of luxury living.”
Typical apartments at the 181-unit Wallich Residence range from one- to four-bedroom units sized from 614 to 2,034 sq ft. The tower is topped by four penthouses spanning the 58th to 61st floors with sizes from 3,509 sq ft, and a super penthouse of 21,108 sq ft occupying the 63rd and 64th floors.

‘Crazy Rich Asian’ product

So far, one of the penthouses has changed hands — a 3,530 sq ft, four-bedroom simplex on the 58th floor. It was sold for $16 million and, at $4,560 psf, it set a new benchmark for luxury residential proper- ty in the CBD, including Marina Bay. The 21,108 sq ft super penthouse carries a price tag of $100 million and has yet to be released. “It’s a ‘Crazy Rich Asian’ product, and we believe there’s a market for it,” says Cheng.
Besides Tanjong Pagar Centre, the other project that has won numerous awards for GuocoLand was Martin Modern. More than two years ago, the company paid $595.1 million for the 1.6ha site at Martin Place in a government land tender. The price translat- ed into $1,239 psf per plot ratio (ppr). “In hindsight, the price isn’t so high,” he says. “Back then, it was the highest. Still, it wasn’t a reckless move. We were convinced on the site, its location, connectivity and exclusivity.”
Sofitel Singapore City Centre, which comes with offerings such as a café, lounge, coffee place, bar, restaurants, meeting rooms and a grand ballroom (Credit: GuocoLand)
While others baulked at the price, GuocoLand remained quietly confident. According to Cheng, there has been no government land site for residential development offered in the prime District 9 neighbourhood for many years. The site is located within a five-minute walk of the upcoming Great World MRT station and also just across the road from the bars, restaurants and cafés at Robertson Quay that front the Singapore River. “It’s the best of both worlds — being close enough to all the amenities and yet away from the noise, as the Martin Place area is quiet and exclusive,” says Cheng. The fact that the site was large enough and undulating allowed the developer and its appointed architects to create “a project that was special and that we could be proud of”, he adds.
The developer therefore decided to have just two towers instead of three on the site, freeing up the grounds for landscaping. There are also “secret gardens” on the rooftops of the two 30-storey towers.

Space and gardens

“District 9 is a prime location and very built up,” says Cheng. “What’s rare in the area is space and greenery. That motivated us to create a home within a Botanic Gardens setting.”
That led to many rounds of revisions to the plans of the 450-unit Martin Modern by its appointed architects, Yip Yuen Hong of ip:li Architects, in collaboration with Tang Kok Thye, senior principal architect of ADDP Architects. “We wanted to create something new in the market,” says Cheng. “We looked into every detail, as we wanted to get the orientation and layout of the units right to ensure that every unit has a view.”
The 'city room' of the urban park at Tanjong Pagar Centre integrated development - the Beach Road site that GuocoLand purchased has a lot of similarities to it (Credit: GuocoLand)
When the project was launched in July last year, the average price of units sold was initially in the region of $2,200 psf. Despite the latest round of property cooling measures that took effect from July 6, units sold have averaged $2,757 psf from July to September. There were even two transactions that crossed the $3,000 psf threshold: a 1,798 sq ft, four-bedroom unit on the 28th floor that fetched $3,138 psf in August and a 1,399 sq ft unit on the 28th floor of the other tower that was sold at $3,020 psf, according to a caveat lodged in September.
Martin Modern has, therefore, set a new price threshold for the Mar- tin Road neighbourhood. Still, Cheng says: “We’re not out to set benchmark prices. Our focus is on the product.”

Prime products

Over the past 12 months, GuocoLand has purchased three prime sites. In September, it purchased a 99-year leasehold commercial site on Beach Road with Guoco Group for $1.62 billion. “There are a lot of similarities between the Beach Road site and Tanjong Pagar Centre,” says Cheng. “Our site is the last piece of the jigsaw puzzle in the Beach Road area and it will connect all the other major developments there. It will really transform the area.”
In March, GuocoLand and Hong Leong Group purchased Pacific Mansion at River Valley Close in prime District 9 for $980 million ($1,987 psf ppr) in the biggest collective sale this year.
In July, GuocoLand paid $319.88 million for Casa Meyfort on Meyer Road. “Meyer Road is the most prime address in District 15, and this site has unobstructed views of both the sea and landed housing estate,” Cheng says.
“Our philosophy is to go for sites where we see great potential and where we believe we can create a strong product. It just so happens that a lot of them are prime sites.”