Developers make their mark here and abroad

Capitaland building, located in the Central Business District.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

SINGAPORE'S most established developers have won international awards for their projects and have collectively raised the bar in the local real estate market.

The key players in the past few decades include Far East Organisation, Hong Leong Group (which includes City Developments), Wing Tai Holdings, Pontiac Land Group, UOL Group and more recently, CapitaLand.

Unlisted property giant Far East Organisation, for instance, has developed more than 760 projects in the residential, hospitality, retail, commercial, healthcare and industrial space segments including 49,000 or one in six private homes in the country.

CapitaLand, formed from the 2000 merger of DBS Land and Pidemco Land, set up Singapore's first real estate investment trust - CapitaLand Mall Trust - in 2002. "We pioneered a new capital-efficient business model for real estate companies," said Lim Ming Yan, president and group CEO.

Hong Leong Group, founded in 1941, has put Singapore on the global hotel map. "From just one hotel in the 1970s, we have grown to more than 170 (including over 20 hotels in the pipeline), totalling over 45,000 rooms in more than 20 countries," said Kwek Leng Beng, executive chairman. "Today, we have hotels in key gateway cities of London, Paris, New York, Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Beijing, Shanghai and Singapore. Our London-listed hotel arm Millennium & Copthorne Hotels, which we floated in 1996, is one of the biggest Asian-controlled hotel groups."

The group went on to mint Singapore's first hotel Reit, CDL Hospitality Trusts, in 2006.

Hong Leong Group, including its Singapore-property arm City Developments, has developed about 30,000 homes in Singapore over the decades.

Pontiac Land Group, founded in 1961, pioneered the trend of luxury residences designed by internationally renowned star architects. It worked with Paul Rudolph for The Colonnade along Grange Road (completed in 1986), which till today is held up as an icon of Singapore real estate. Pontiac also engaged Ben van Berkel for Ardmore Residence (2013) and Kerry Hill for HANA (2015).

The group has also worked with starchitects for its hotels and office developments. Pontiac's The Regent Singapore along Cuscaden Road was American architect John Portman's first project outside the US. For Pontiac's Millenia Singapore development in the Marina Centre locale, it engaged Pritzker Prize laureate Kevin Roche for the two office towers Millenia Tower and Centennial Tower.

Wing Tai Holdings "was among the first to embrace art and heritage in the architecture" of its developments, said the group's deputy chairman, Edmund Cheng. The group has installed artwork in condo projects such as Flame Tree Park in Upper Thomson Road, Belle Vue Residences, Helios Residences on Cairnhill Circle. When Wing Tai developed the Draycott 8 condo, it did a voluntary conservation of a two-storey 1920s colonial bungalow and converted it into a modern clubhouse - in addition to adorning the project with 21 artwork pieces.

The group's origins were in manufacturing. "Our pioneering role in Singapore's economic development as a garment manufacturer enabled us to grow in tandem with the country during the early years post-independence. We were one of the largest employers, took in unskilled labour and trained them . . ." said Mr Cheng.

UOL Group, controlled by the family of Wee Cho Yaw, has also come a long way. "We are an integral part of the Singapore story and closely associated with the city-state's changing skyline in the past 50 years," said chief executive Gwee Lian Kheng. "We started small but our entrepreneurial spirit quickly led us to be a forerunner in building quality private residential developments with early projects such as Faber Garden Condominium, Mount Echo Park and Orchard Bel Air and more recently award-winning projects like Nassim Park Residences and Newton Suites."

The group also developed the iconic Parkroyal on Pickering, designed by WOHA and for which it won Gold in the hotel category at the World FIABCI Prix d' Excellence Award 2014.

On the corporate front, UOL has made significant acquisitions. In 2009 , during the global financial crisis, the group raised its stake in United Industrial Corporation (UIC), making it an associate company. Over the years, UOL has gradually added its interest in UIC to 44 per cent. In turn, UIC owns more than 99 per cent of Singapore Land - which was privatised in 2014. "The increased shareholding in UIC enlarges UOL Group's exposure to UIC and SingLand's quality commercial assets in the Singapore CBD - such as Singapore Land Tower, Gateway, and Clifford Centre," said Mr Gwee.

This article was first published on October 22, 2015.
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