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[UPDATE] City Developments raises the bar with quality, innovative offerings

Chia Ngiang Hong, group general manager of City Developments (left), receiving the Top Developer award from Bernard Tong, CEO of EdgeProp Singapore (Picture: Albert Chua/The Edge Singapore)

EDGEPROP (SINGAPORE) - For the sixth year running, City Developments Ltd (CDL) was crowned Top Developer at the EdgeProp Singapore Excellence Awards (EPEA) 2022 — the only developer to have achieved such a streak. The Singapore-listed property giant also scooped up multiple awards for CanningHill Piers, a joint-venture project with CapitaLand Development. The mixed-use development clinched wins for Design Excellence, Innovation Excellence, Marketing Excellence, People’s Choice and Top Development.

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The awards follow a robust year of activity for CDL. The developer launched two projects this year, both of which have been met with strong interest. The first was Piccadilly Grand, the 407-unit development located in Farrer Park. Developed jointly with MCL Land, the 99-year leasehold condominium is the maiden joint-venture project between the two companies.

Piccadilly Grand, which launched in April, has seen 85% of units sold at an average price of $2,141 psf (Picture: Samuel Isaac Chua/The Edge Singapore)

Piccadilly Grand saw 77% of its units taken up during its launch weekend in April. To date, the project has seen 85% of units sold at an average price of $2,141 psf, based on caveats lodged. Chia Ngiang Hong, group general manager at CDL, attributes the project’s success to the fact that it “ticks all the right boxes”, given its city-fringe location, attractive pricing, and its direct link to the Farrer Park MRT Station, which offers convenient accessibility.

The second CDL project to debut this year is also a joint venture with MCL Land — the 639-unit executive condominium (EC) Copen Grand, which is the first EC to be launched in the upcoming Tengah Town, Singapore’s first smart and sustainable precinct. The project opened for preview on Oct 7, with some 2,300 e-applications received for the available units, while sales bookings commenced on Oct 22. A total of 465 (73%) of units were taken up on the first day of sales.

Copen Grand is the first EC to launch in the upcoming Tengah Town estate (Picture: CDL)

Landbanking, launch pipeline

In addition to the project launches, the developer has been active in replenishing its landbank. In January, it purchased a 210,623 sq ft Government Land Sale (GLS) site at Jalan Tembusu, located off Tanjong Katong Road in prime District 15, for $768 million or $1,302 psf per plot ratio (psf ppr).

In September, CDL emerged as the top bidder for an EC site at Bukit Batok West Avenue 5, with a bid of $336.068 million ($626 psf ppr). In April, it completed the off-market acquisition of a 179,007 sq ft site at 798 and 800 Upper Bukit Timah Road for $126.3 million from Tan Chong International. The site was purchased last November.

Chia highlights that the developer has been selective in its land acquisitions, ensuring a good mix across various segments. “We see great potential in our sites, which are spread out over various good locations from the east to the central to the west,” he adds.

The development at Jalan Tembusu is one of three upcoming residential projects slated for launch next year. Comprising a total of 638 units, the luxury condominium is also a joint-venture project with MCL.

The site at Upper Bukit Timah Road will be redeveloped into a residential project also slated for launch in 2023, with over 400 units. Meanwhile, the third project scheduled for launch is the 246-unit Newport Residences, which is part of an upcoming mixed-use development on the site of the former Fuji Xerox Towers on Anson Road in Tanjong Pagar.

Chia: Our recent projects have been carefully planned to stay atop the evolving needs and aspirations of home buyers (Picture: Samuel Isaac Chua/The Edge Singapore)

Products that resonate with home buyers

The success of CDL’s residential launches this year is a testament to its keen perception of what buyers want. “Our recent projects have been carefully planned to stay atop the evolving needs and aspirations of home buyers,” says Chia.

A credit to CDL’s receptiveness has been its ability to meet the vast changes in home-buyer preference in response to lifestyle changes brought about by the pandemic, such as hybrid work arrangements and home-based learning.

In addition, Chia highlights that a greater emphasis on wellness has emerged. “Since the onset of the pandemic, people have looked for more comfort and ease in their lives and placed a greater focus on things that matter most to them,” he says.

Growing in tandem with the emphasis on wellness is the push for sustainability. As climate change propels the urgency to evolve towards more sustainable ways of living, home buyers are increasingly paying attention to having a greener built environment.

Moving forward, CDL anticipates these two key trends to remain at the forefront of what home buyers are looking for, in addition to fundamental considerations such as the location of projects. To that extent, CDL’s projects have been carefully curated so it can deliver quality products that resonate with buyers.

For example, in response to the rise in hybrid working, CDL’s recent projects, including CanningHill Piers, Irwell Residences, Piccadilly Grand and Copen Grand, all feature designated co-working spaces equipped with charging points and WiFi facilities.

Care was also taken to curate a well-rounded array of lifestyle amenities at each development to provide a holistic wellness experience for residents. For example, at Piccadilly Grand, the communal facilities are spread across five different zones, with each targeting a specific lifestyle element. These include the Tranquillity Zone with areas such as a spa and wellness lounge; and the Social Zone that comes with facilities such as family and kids’ pools, a play area and a multi-purpose court.

Green developer

On the sustainability front, CDL continues to push for green designs as well as efficient construction methods. “We place a lot of emphasis on the health performance of our buildings, and conceptualise them with factors such as acoustic comfort, natural ventilation, thermal comfort and bio-philic design in mind,” notes Chia.

For example, at Irwell Hill Residences, which won the Sustainability Excellence award at EPEA 2022, the two 36-storey residential towers occupy a footprint representing just 25% of the project site, with the rest dedicated to greenery and landscaping. In addition, the project uses prefabricated prefinished volumetric construction, a more sustainable construction technique. Irwell Hill Residences is Green Mark GoldPLUS certified by the Building Construction Authority.

In other sustainability milestones, another of CDL’s projects, the upcoming Newport Residences, has achieved the Green Mark Platinum Super Low Energy (SLE) certification, awarded to buildings that achieve at least 60% energy savings. Copen Grand will also be conferred the same certification, making it the first EC to be SLE-certified.

Innovative solutions

Besides CDL being well-attuned to home buyers’ needs, its position as a market-leading developer has been sustained by its adoption of smart, digital-centric solutions. For Kwek Eik Sheng, group COO of CDL, it is a pivotal part of its strategy. “For every business, it is crucial to continuously raise the bar with quality and innovative offerings to sharpen product differentiation,” he says.

As part of its commitment to adopting new technologies, in 2018, CDL set up an Enterprise Innovation Committee — an anchor platform to drive innovation. The committee sources and implements solutions that will drive long-term business value for CDL, including improvements to customer offerings.

Recent solutions implemented include CDL Home Sales, an in-house proprietary electronic system designed to provide home buyers with a more transparent and efficient buying experience. The system was rolled out at the launch of Irwell Hill Residences, serving as a centralised platform for customers to lodge expressions of interest, undergo balloting and facilitate satellite sales bookings. “The system has received positive feedback from home buyers and sales agents,” shares Kwek, who notes that it has also been deployed at subsequent launches for CanningHill Piers and Piccadilly Grand.

CityNexus, a smart building app, is another innovative solution by the developer. Geared towards its commercial portfolio, CityNexus allows users to access services such as gaining access into buildings, calling for lifts using contactless technology, and pre-registering guests. The app was first rolled out for the office community at Republic Plaza, CDL’s flagship property in the Downtown Core.

Since then, it has also rolled out the app to retail tenants at Palais Renaissance, CDL’s retail and office development on Orchard Road. As part of the roll-out, a new self-service tenant portal was included, allowing tenants to access lease information and invoices digitally, as well as update information and personnel remotely.

A $7 million revamp of Palais Renaissance was completed this year as part of the ongoing rejuvenation of CDL’s portfolio of assets (Picture: CDL)

Portfolio rejuvenation and diversification

Palais Renaissance’s integration of CityNexus comes as part of a major asset enhancement initiative (AEI) for the development. The $7 million revamp was completed this year, with enhancements including an expanded main entrance, an al fresco dining area, a redesign of its interiors, and upgraded office floor lift lobbies.

The extensive work done on Palais Renaissance is part of the company’s ongoing rejuvenation of its portfolio of assets. Noting that it forms a key component of CDL’s GET (Growth, Enhancement and Transformation) strategy that was introduced in 2018, Kwek shares that AEIs allow the company to introduce new concepts at select assets to enhance performance. “We continually review our asset portfolio and find ways to reposition and refresh our properties,” he comments.

Kwek: We continually review our asset portfolio and find ways to reposition and refresh our properties (Picture: CDL)

Other key enhancement initiatives CDL is currently undertaking include the redevelopment of the former Fuji Xerox Towers under the URA CBD Incentive Scheme. In addition to Newport Residences, the integrated development will also consist of office development Newport Tower, retail component Newport Plaza, as well as a service apartments component.

CDL is also redeveloping its Central Mall and Central Square properties under the URA Strategic Development Incentive Scheme. Located across the Singapore River from CanningHill Piers, the combined site will be redeveloped into an enlarged mixed-use integrated development comprising office, retail, hotel and residential components.

In addition to its portfolio rejuvenation, CDL has also continued its journey to strategically diversify. In particular, it has bolstered its investment portfolio by building up scale in “living sector” assets, which include student accommodation, the private rented sector (PRS), workers’ dormitories and senior housing.

Currently, CDL’s living sector portfolio includes over 1,500 units in the UK, 500 units in Japan, and 250 units in California, US. Recent acquisitions included Infinity, a 505-bed purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) located in Coventry, UK, for GBP59.2 million ($102.4 million) in June, representing its first PBSA asset. It also entered the Australian PRS market in March, acquiring a 240-unit PRS project in Melbourne for A$11.1 million ($11.4 million).

CDL acquired its first purpose-built student accommodation in the UK — the 505-bed Infinity in Coventry — in June for GBP59.2 million ($102.4 million) (Picture: CDL)

“Our expansion into the sector has started to bear fruit over the past few years, as we gradually built our presence in the various segments,” Kwek says. He adds that in addition to boosting CDL’s recurring income segment, building up a sizeable portfolio in the PRS segment will provide potential for the company to seed assets into a REIT, which may include CDL Hospitality Trusts.

Turning 60

Buttressed by its recent investments, overseas assets now make up over half of CDL’s $23 billion portfolio by book value, as reported in its half-year financials ending June 30.

Nonetheless, Kwek notes that Singapore will remain the developer’s core market. To be sure, the coming year will be a landmark one for CDL, marking the 60th anniversary of its formation in 1963 and a new milestone in its rich history in shaping Singapore’s skyline. “We have indeed grown in tandem with our nation, supporting the needs of Singapore since the early years of independence till today,” Kwek reflects.

As it continues to build upon its legacy, CDL aims to continue advancing as a pioneer in sustainability, supporting the national vision for a smarter, greener and more liveable Singapore. “In doing so, we will remain true to our conviction of leaving a positive impact on the lives that we touch and engage with, be it our customers, employees, investors, business associates, suppliers or the community at large,” Kwek says.

Check out the latest listings near Piccadilly Grand, Copen Grand, Jalan Tembusu, Newport Residences, Upper Bukit Timah Road, Piccadilly Grand, Irwell Hill Residences, Palais Renaissance, CanningHill Piers, Farrer Park MRT Station

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