This evening finally sees the grand opening of The 240 Phnom Penh Apartments, on Street 240.
Under construction for nearly seven years, The 240, as it is better known, has faced a host of challenges, including regulatory issues, and even diplomatic obstacles. The building’s owner, local business powerhouse Elain Younn, says one of the bigger hurdles came from the US government itself.
“One time we had to stop building because the US Embassy had some security concerns – [the building] overlooks the US ambassador’s residence - and so we had to try and find a way to work together,” she said.
While this impediment initially appeared taxing, in the end, Younn says the US-inspired delay made the apartment building even better.
“They were very accommodating in the end. It was obvious that we did pose a security issue, because we’re next door, so they gave us guidelines on how to make it acceptable to them. And now the US Embassy is working with us, and there is quite a number of staff from the embassy living here now,” she said.
By current Phnom Penh standards, The 240 is not a big building, with only seven storeys and 42 apartments. But working with the US Embassy meant that Younn built the apartments to comply with US-standard building codes, which include precise specifications on everything from foundation, wall, and roof construction, to interior finishes and safety standards.
“At the moment we’re the only [apartment] building in Cambodia that has complied with US safety guidelines,” Younn says.
“We’ve got the full fire-sprinkler system, cameras, smoke alarms, emergency staircases, the height of the railings: everything on the long list you have to comply with, we have done.”
Prices range from $1,800 a month for a one-bedroom duplex to $4,500 for a four-bedroom penthouse. And the apartments come with a full range of amenities that includes a gym, an infinity swimming pool, two bars, a café, housekeeping, laundry service and underground car parking, as well as, unusually, a healing space, which offers yoga and crystal bowl sound healing, interplay and meditation.
Younn is involved in a range of businesses in Cambodia, including Living IChing Décor, the iCAN British International School, Bliss Spa and restaurants Luna and Mama Wong’s, as well as being behind several charities. But she says more property development probably doesn’t loom large in her future.
“I don’t think it’s a very good time to do property at the moment, because there are too many condos being developed, and I think there are too many compared to the level of demand.”
She adds that she really only got into property development because of her affection for Street 240. “This project happened by chance: I didn’t set out to develop a property. I loved this street, and when I saw the original designs for this building by the original landowner, it was not really good for the street, so that compelled me to do something that lifts up the area.”
Younn says that she has not found it particularly difficult to be a woman in the male-oriented work of Phnom Penh property development. “I feel that women are actually very respected in Cambodia, it’s a matriarchal society; women are the ones who lead.”
“But, on the other hand, you do have a lot of men in power who you have to work with and that can be a bit of a challenge, but for me, I’ve learned to work with that,” she added.
Younn says that tonight’s party is partly to show her pride in the apartment building, and to celebrate her accomplishments.
While the party is meant to acknowledge and honour the obstacles the building has overcome, it also aims to turn the page on a development that unwittingly fell into the public sphere amidst heightened US security concerns.
“[It shows] what we’ve done and what we’ve been through, and I just think we need to have closure with the public, because everyone has known about this building.”
While she thanked everyone for their ongoing support, she added: “We’ve all been through a lot together in the public eye. Now, we really have finished.”