The development of Thai Boon Roong’s 500-metre high Twin Trade Center will begin late this year, according to project insiders, who say the developer has secured funding to kickstart the construction of not only “the biggest commercial building in Phnom Penh”, but in the whole of Southeast Asia.
Despite the recent death of notorious Thai Boon Roong Co. Ltd.’s founder, Teng Boonma, and some doom and gloom in the real estate sector, the groundbreaking for the 133-storey twin tower development – surrounded by an additional four 42-storey towers – is expected to happen within months.
Tous Saphoeun, deputy secretary general of Board of Architects Cambodia (BAC), who is involved in the sketching of the project and works closely with the project developers, confirmed this week that “although the property market has seen some problems in the sales department, it does not pose a problem in beginning the construction for this $2.1 billion project.”
He added, “Now, all three steps of the testing phase have been completed, and the land in the area can support buildings up to 200 storeys.”
The entire development will sit on a 4.97-hectare land plot in Chaktomuk district in the Daun Penh commune.
Chinese company Hsin Chong Construction Group Ltd. has been assigned to manage the project under a partnership between the Thai Boon Roong Group and Macau’s real estate development company, Sun Kian Ip Group – owned by the notorious business tycoon Ng Lap Seng.
The project is nothing short of bombastic, with Saphoeun adding that the commercial centre will include a shopping mall, office space, condos, apartments, 5-star and 6-star hotels, and high-class restaurants.
In addition, the developers will be pumping in another $3 billion on top of the original $2.1 billion budget to ensure that the centre will run successfully.
He added, “This project will be successful because there hasn’t been a development of this scale in Cambodia since giant companies have yet to appear in the country. Nonetheless, once the project is completed, giant companies will set up their offices in the area.”
“These buildings [of the Thai Boon Roong Twin Trade Center] have potential to attract big developers and companies.”
The project has the government’s full backing, with Phnom Penh governor Pa Socheatvong previously saying during the project’s showroom launch – opposite the Chinese embassy – that “Prime minister Hun Sen fully supports the construction”.
Thida Ann, associate director of CBRE Cambodia, said the size of the development is big for the current market but not too large for future Cambodia, also pointing out that the completion of the project does not guarantee its success.
She added, “If investors have a lot of money to encourage the project developers, it will be a good thing. If all the buildings have an occupancy rate of 60 to 70 per cent, that is considered acceptable in itself.”
To ensure that this highest building in Cambodia is attractive, Saphoeun said, “The company is preparing additional features for the towers, such as expanding the roads around the area, and renovating Hun Sen park to make it more suitable to that name.”
Citing standards to keep up with, he explained: “All in all, we have to make sure that the area around the towers is heavenly and beautiful to fit the legacy of the Thai Boon Roong commercial center.”
Questioned on when the project will officially go on sale to the public, Saphoeun said, “We have not thought about the sales aspect yet. We are only focusing on how to make the project successful.”
While the ambitious development appears to be forging ahead, Ross Wheble, Knight Frank’s country manager, said Phnom Penh could not physically support such a large-scale project.
“At present, the existing infrastructure would not be able to support a project of this scale, and there needs to be more detailed information released regarding the proposed Phnom Penh Master Plan 2035 to boost investor confidence in the future development of Phnom Penh,” he said.
Wheble also had doubts surrounding the project’s slated completion date of 2019.
“Although the targeted completion date is within quite a short timeframe, realistically, a development of this scale is going to take significantly longer to complete,” he said.
With a purported $5.1 billion price tag, which will be stumped up from the deep pockets of Thai Boon Roong and Hsin Chong, Saphoeun declined to comment on why the estimated sum had ballooned from an initial $1 billion, and what the extra fiscal injection would be used for.
Eyebrows have also been raised over the project’s ties to financial backer Ng Lap Seng. According to Reuters, Seng was arrested last September in New York over an alleged scheme to pay $500,000 in bribes to John Ashe, a former president of the UN General Assembly, to receive support for a conference centre, which his company Sun Kian Ip Group would develop.
The Chinese real estate mogul, who has pleaded not guilty to bribery and money laundering, will go to trial in January next year.
The scandal does not alleviate the hazy cost figures of the ultra-mega twin trade centre development, with previously reported cost estimations having ranged from $1 billion to $3 billion since its debut announcement.