Monday 20 February 2012

Johor unveils new plans for waterfront

Firm takes charge, kick-starting plans for high-end development
By Carolyn Hong, The Straits Times, 18 Feb 2012

JOHOR BARU: After years of uncoordinated planning among different landowners, Johor has now unveiled a masterplan to build a glittering waterfront facing Singapore from swampy and reclaimed land, having consolidated 3,000 acres (1,210ha) of prime land under one company.

The land bank stretching 25km and flanking the Causeway was recently parked under a company called Iskandar Waterfront Holdings (IWH), in a bid to kick-start development plans. Previously, the land was held by several state and federal government firms.

'It's been a long, long time that we were singing different songs,' said businessman Lim Kang Hoo, who owns 60 per cent of the joint venture while a Johor state firm, Kumpulan Prasarana Rakyat Johor, owns the rest.

'Now, we are very focused and it's become clearer who's driving the development,' Mr Lim said.

The federal government's property firm Iskandar Investment has a significant stake in some of IWH's land bank farther west from Johor Baru, close to the new Nusajaya township where attractions like Legoland are coming up.

The waterfront development, with a gross development value of RM80 billion (S$33 billion), was launched five years ago as part of the Iskandar Malaysia special economic region in south Johor.

Iskandar Malaysia aims to leverage on its proximity to Singapore and attract investments from global firms looking for a cheaper location. The plan is to develop high-end infrastructure, as well as international-class housing, entertainment, schooling and amenities to attract expatriates and Singaporeans to live in Johor.

Prime Minister Najib Razak launched the waterfront masterplan last Sunday, and pledged RM200 million in federal funds for infrastructure. The masterplan envisions skyscrapers, residential blocks, hotels and waterfront homes. There will also be retail and food outlets and parks.

A contractor from Selangor, Mr Lim, 57, came into the picture rather unexpectedly in 1997 when the Asian financial crisis dashed the Johor government's plan to develop the waterfront land. He formed a partnership with the state government, and took over its debts on the land known as Lido Beach, now renamed Danga Bay, about 5km from Johor Baru city centre.

He said he has spent 15 years to undertake infrastructure works, which are now largely complete. This includes reclaiming 200ha to 240ha of land.

'All the land here was underwater, and the rivers were choked with rubbish, human waste and animal carcasses. And the smell ... it took a long time,' he said.

Today, his offices stand on the reclaimed land on Danga Bay. It, however, remains pretty bare except for a short stretch with a marina and convention centre. This may change soon as a large parcel of land nearby is being developed in a joint venture with a Malaysian property company, Dijaya Corporation.

The first building to be constructed will be a luxury waterfront condominium, Tropez. About 20 per cent of the 1,149 units have been sold to Singaporeans. Mr Lim has also entered into a joint venture with Singapore's Azea Residences and Australia's Walker Group.

'We are seeing a lot of interest now, especially after the two governments (Malaysia and Singapore) shook hands,' he said, referring to the settlement of the railway land issue in Singapore. 'It triggered a lot of investor interest in Iskandar as a whole.'

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