Busier days ahead

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In the dim light of the sumptuous drawing room at Hotel Concorde Kuala Lumpur, Tan Sri Syed Yusof Syed Nasir appears to have withdrawn into the folds of his plush leather couch.

The hospitality mogul and property developer looks weary, no doubt from the exertions of promoting his latest development Casa del Rio Residences.

The RM60 million luxury development along the banks of the Melaka river is the second phase of Syed Yusof's Mediterranean-style, mixed-use project called Casa del Rio. The project also features a 66-room boutique hotel, complete with restaurants called River Café, The River Grill and Bar Rio, the Satkara Spa, a gymnasium and infinity swimming pool, among other facilities. Both the hotel and apartments occupy a 3.7-acre parcel in the heart of Melaka's historical district.

To date, about eight of the fully completed and furnished 32 luxury apartments have been sold. It is not cheap to own one of these units — furnished with all manner of conveniences, the smallest (1,421 sq ft) are going for RM1.8 million while the largest (2,745 sq ft) are priced at RM2 million.

Coming back to Hotel Concorde, Syed Yusof would have spent at least an hour entertaining the press and guests at the second event, complete with a singing four-piece string band, to celebrate the launch of the homes. The first was the official launch in Melaka the week before.

"I think it is too early to talk about some of my projects, but I will try my best if you want to," he tells City & Country with a soft smile.

The business interests of Syed Yusof, popularly known as Jojo — it is his concert promotion outfit Jojo Entertainment that brought such legends as Michael Jackson, Eric Clapton and the Gypsy Kings to the country — range from hospitality, real estate and retail to pipe manufacturing and investment holding companies.

He is the chairman of Venus Assets Sdn Bhd, which is responsible for the upcoming Four Seasons Place project in the Kuala Lumpur City Centre which may see the launch of the residences soon. Other prominent shareholders include Ipoh-born hospitality tycoon Datuk Ong Beng Seng and Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah of Selangor.

Syed Yusof's collaboration with Ong and the Sultan extends beyond the Four Seasons development. For starters, the Concorde hotels in Kuala Lumpur and Shah Alam owned by Syed Yusof are being managed by HPL Hotels & Resorts, a subsidiary of SGX -listed Hotel Properties Ltd, which is controlled by Ong. Sultan Sharafuddin is not only a stakeholder in property developer ISY Holdings Sdn Bhd and investment holding company Sovereign Enterprises Sdn Bhd — Syed Yusof is the CEO and a director respectively — but the two men are also childhood friends.

Syed Yusof is also the chairman of Vasseti Bhd, which is involved in the telecommunications, ICT, engineering and construction, real estate and properties, automotive, plantation, leisure and life concepts, security and HR services sectors.

He helms pipemaker YLI Holdings Bhd, Casa Del Rio (M) Sdn Bhd, Palmco Hotels Sdn Bhd (Hard Rock Hotel Penang), Concorde Hotels & Resorts Malaysia Sdn Bhd, Hard Rock Cafe Kuala Lumpur and Super Vista Sdn Bhd, which owns the 19-room Tudor-style boutique hotel The Lakehouse Cameron Highlands.

It should be noted that Casa del Mar, Casa del Rio, Hard Rock Hotel Penang and The Lakehouse Cameron Highlands are also run by HPL Hotels & Resorts and fall under The Boutique Collection.

Four Seasons Place KLWork on the RM2.5 billion mixed-use development with hotels, residences and a mall has finally begun after the project spent almost seven years on the drawing board. Venus Assets has completed the piling works and moved onto the foundations on the 2.6-acre plot near the Petronas Twin Towers next to Maxis Tower. The mall will open first in 2015.

While the development remains 65 storeys high, its plans were revised to double the size of the mall to 300,000 sq ft while the hotel will have over 200 rooms, up from 150 previously. There will also be over 238 residential units, double the original 100.

"Of course, the mall will be an upmarket one. We definitely see it complementing Suria KLCC. There will be brands that will be making their Malaysian debut at our mall," says Syed Yusof.

Venus Assets is also looking at a gourmet supermarket to anchor the mall.

According to Syed Yusof, the hotel will create an a la carte service to serve the residential units at Four Seasons Place.

The developer plans to launch the residences sometime in 1Q, with prices from RM2,500 psf.

The units have built-ups from 1,200 to 10,000 sq ft, the latter being the size of the two penthouses. There will also be eight duplexes with their own swimming pools.

According to DTZ's executive director Eddy Wong, the benchmark price for luxury condos and serviced apartments was set by Binjai on the Park, with the current development price estimated at RM2,600 to RM3,000 psf. "However, I believe there will be several new launches approaching this range of prices and these are specific to location and product. There are better brands with products and concepts that stand out, which means better value propositions.

"For example, Dijaya's The W Hotel & Residences in Kuala Lumpur plans to launch its residences at RM2,000 psf, UEM Land's Angkasa Raya residences are expected to command RM2,500 psf while the indicative price of Ireka's RuMa Hotel & Residences is around RM2,000 psf," says Wong.

'It's a tough business'Concorde Group recently added another feather to its cap when it was recognised as the best hospitality company by the Malay Chamber of Commerce Malaysia.

"We have been in the business for the past 25 years, but hospitality is not an easy industry. In fact, it is an uphill battle because you have so many factors like labour to worry about and you have to plough back up to 33% of your revenue into the business. To keep up with the times, we have to renovate. In fact, we just completed a RM40 million renovation of Concorde Hotel Kuala Lumpur that was done in stages," comments Syed Yusof.

The group's efforts have been rewarded with satisfactory occupancy rates. Concorde Hotel KL's 581 rooms saw an average 75% occupancy while the 385-room Concorde Hotel Shah Alam registered 70%.

Over at Langkawi, Casa del Mar's 34 rooms averaged 93% occupancy while Concorde Inn near the KLIA at Sepang saw about 80% of its 300 rooms occupied monthly."The hotel staff are a key element of our success. I am proud to say we have trained over 1,000 of them throughout the years and many of them have grown with the group. There are people who have stayed for over 20 years with us — take our general manager Gary Lee. He has been with me for 22 years," Syed Yusof smiles.

Besides Concorde Group, the flamboyant businessman runs the Hard Rock franchise of cafes and hotels here. The Hard Rock Cafe at the start of Jonker Street, in the heart of Melaka's heritage site, is expected to open in December. "It will be the key entertainment area there," remarks Syed Yusof.

Malaysia's fourth Hard Rock Cafe is scheduled to open at Oceanus Waterfront Mall in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, late this year. The Hard Rock Rock Shop opened in early December, selling merchandise such as T-shirts and the legendary rock 'n' roll band's signature pins, including a limited Kota Kinabalu edition.

Syed Yusof is also "searching high and low" for a suitable location to open Hard Rock Hotel Kuala Lumpur. While they have identified a couple of potential sites, Syed Yusof will not say much about the exact location pending approval from Hard Rock International. "If possible, it will not be far from KLCC" is all he reveals.

In the pipeline On the drawing board is the future redevelopment of Concorde Hotel Kuala Lumpur. While Syed Yusof does not offer a timeline as the matter is still in the preliminary stage, the 4.5-acre site in Jalan Sultan Ismail will likely house four high-rise buildings, comprising an office tower, a hotel and serviced residences.

The serviced residences will be run by Concorde Hotel and its residents will enjoy the same perks as those offered at Casa del Rio Residences in Melaka, such as access to the neighbouring Casa del Rio Hotel's various facilities and other privileges such as cleaning services and 24-hour food delivery on request.

How will his serviced apartments stand out from the various luxury condominiums and homes of the same type that crowd Kuala Lumpur's skyline?

"What's most important for condos is the management. If you don't have the brand [looking after the condo], nobody will look into its services and maintenance, which is very important. So if you buy some apartment, especially the non-branded ones, the services may not be up to a par."

In Melaka, Casa del Rio will undergo further development. The developer has acquired a one-acre parking lot opposite the hotel and residences, where it will increase the parking bays. On the drawing board is retail space on the part that faces Casa del Rio's earlier phases. There are plans to bring in an upmarket grocer to anchor the property.

"Jonker Street is saturated; you need to decentralise it a bit. The car park will be hidden behind the shops. People who park their cars there will mill around the shops. That's the idea," Syed Yusof points out.

Then, there is Casa Heights in Kota Damansara where ISY Holdings will develop 32 three-storey semi-detached houses within a gated neighbourhood on an elevated site over five acres near the Selangor Polo Country Club along Persiaran Mahogani.

The homes are priced from RM2.5 million onwards, which translates into a gross development value of RM85 million. Syed Yusof deems it the last tract in Kota Damansara that is suitable for development.

Previously, ISY Holdings completed Sierra Casa, comprising 152 two-storey and 2.5-storey semidees on 17 acres also in Kota Damansara.

The homes will have a built-up and land area of 4,000 and 3,500 sq ft respectively with optional lifts.

"We are going to cater for the grannies and grandads because we Asians always try to take care of our elders. These homes will have a special floor for them downstairs with their own kitchen, living room and bedrooms, so it's like living together but they have their own privacy," Syed Yusof says.

"The Four Seasons Place, Casa Heights and the new Hard Rock establishments are going to keep us very busy. You will hear more from us," he chuckles.

This story first appeared in The Edge weekly edition of Jan 7-13, 2013.