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Colossal skyscraper project still up in the air

A sales representative for the TBR Twin Tower World Trade Centre looks at a model of the project on display at its showroom in Phnom Penh.
A sales representative for the TBR Twin Tower World Trade Centre looks at a model of the project on display at its showroom in Phnom Penh. Hin Pisei

Colossal skyscraper project still up in the air

The site and showroom for Thai Boon Roong Group’s 133-storey twin tower complex remain quiet, but the project’s chief architect insists construction will begin soon.

Thai Boon Roong Group’s audacious plan to construct one of the world’s tallest skyscrapers on Phnom Penh’s riverfront is moving forward, according to its chief architect, despite the conspicuous absence of heavy equipment on the construction site and the coma-like state of the project’s sales showroom.

Plans for TBR Twin Tower World Trade Centre, a multi-billion dollar 133-storey twin tower set to rise on 5 hectares formerly occupied by Dreamland amusement park in the capital’s Daun Penh district, have been treated with scepticism since the project was first announced nearly three years ago.

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However, Tous Saphoeun, chief architect at Thai Boon Roong Group, said this week that the repeatedly delayed project is on track, and Cambodian, American and Chinese architects were finalising the master plan for the twin tower skyscraper and its four adjacent commercial towers.

“The construction plan for this international-grade commercial skyscraper has not changed nor faced any problems,” he said assuredly. “The Thai Boon Roong Group’s project will deliver pride and fame to Cambodia in the international arena.”

The project, a joint venture between Thai Boon Roong Group and Chinese contractor Macau-owned Sun Kian Ip Group, was first announced in July 2015 as a 111-storey skyscraper expected to top out at over 500 metres. Construction was set to begin in 2016 and take three years to complete.

Despite lingering concerns over the commercial viability of the mammoth mixed-use complex, the developer has doubled down on its scale to keep it on track as the tallest building in Southeast Asia – at least until 2021 when the 615-metre-high Rama IX Super Tower in Bangkok is scheduled to be completed.

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Vehicles pass the fenced off site of the TBR Twin World Trade Centre. Hin Pisei

In December 2016, a joint venture of China’s Wuchang Shipbuilding Industry Group and Sino Great Wall Holdings signed a $2.7 billion construction contract to build the TBR Twin Tower World Trade Centre, now envisioned as a 560-metre, 133-storey twin tower.

Saphoeun said the gross building area of the project will cover 1.47 million square metres, with the two towers reaching a maximum height of 561.7 metres. The twin towers will include a five-star hotel with 557 rooms and 448 luxury condominium units, while the four surrounding buildings will comprise prime office space, a shopping mall and international-grade restaurants and entertainment facilities. Three floors of underground parking will be built with capacity for 3,800 cars and 3,000 motorbikes.

“Not every country is able to build this kind of huge project,” said Saphoeun. “Sometimes, they have the money to build it, but even then it is not certain they will.”

Saphoeun insisted Thai Boon Roong Group already had the capital in place to ensure the project’s success, adding that about $3 billion would be invested in the construction and another $3 billion would be set aside to ensure the project runs smoothly.

He said the company was preparing to break ground on the foundation and has hired a local contractor to build a diaphragm wall. The 1-metre-thick reinforced concrete wall will extend 30 metres below the surface, encasing the basement floors and preventing movement of the surrounding soil.

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The former site of Dreamland after the amusement park was demolished in 2016. Pha Lina

Saphoeun did not give a date for construction to commence, only saying the company “would choose the right time” to begin.

He also dismissed reports that Cambodia’s Royal Group will build a 600-metre commercial tower on the site of the Cambodiana Hotel, less than 100 hundred metres north of the planned TBR Twin Tower World Trade Centre. He said Royal Group chairman, prominent tycoon Kith Meng, did not have the deep pockets needed to realise a project of that magnitude.

Kim Heang, president of the Cambodian Valuers and Estate Agents Association (CVEA), said if plans for the TBR Twin Tower World Trade Centre are realised it would bolster the confidence of investors in Cambodia’s construction sector and increase the country’s pride and prestige.

“I have never thought that Phnom Penh would ever have this kind of skyscraper, or develop this fast,” he said. “I am really amazed by the rapid pace of development here.”

Ann Sothida, CEO of property firm CBRE Cambodia, was cautiously optimistic about the project and said that while the riverfront location occupied prime real estate, the success of the sales campaign would depend on the design and price of the units.

“If the developer has enough capital to finish the project, I think it will be very good,” she said. “However, sales for such a huge project will take a long time.”

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A model cross section of one of the twin towers. Hin Pisei

Thai Boon Roong Group opened a spacious showroom opposite the Chinese Embassy in early 2016 to showcase the twin-tower project. When visited yesterday, however, the lone salesperson at the empty showroom confirmed that none of the commercial or residential units had been booked.

“Until now, presales and sales have not yet begun,” the representative said.

Chrek Soknim, CEO of real estate firm Century 21 Mekong, said it was highly unusual that the project’s showroom has been open for nearly two years yet it has not even begun presales.

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