'Gung-ho' image helps Singapore firm net Shanghai winter resort project

Steamy Singapore is about as far removed from snow and skiing as you can get, but that has not stopped a local developer aiming to build what it says will be the world’s biggest integrated indoor winter resort.

KOP Properties, known for its ritzy condominiums, will start constructing the 13.5 billion yuan (S$2.8 billion) project in Shanghai next year.

Called Winterland Shanghai, the mega resort will feature the world’s longest indoor ski trail and several ski-in, ski-out hotels.

It will also have a water park, a “beach club” 100m above ground and a tree-lined hiking trail on the roof, as well as commercial, retail and residential facilities.

KOP came up with the idea at the start of last year, after a Russian company that organises high-profile winter sports contests approached it through a mutual business contact, co-founder and chairman Ong Chih Ching told The Sunday Times.

“They needed somebody who was bold and could share their vision. KOP is probably seen as younger, more gung-ho and maybe a bit crazy,” Ms Ong said with a laugh.

The seven-year-old firm leapt at the chance.

Ms Ong, 44, was a practising lawyer before she got into property development in the early 2000s. She co-founded KOP Group in 2006 with Ms Leny Suparman, who is chief executive.

The United Arab Emirates- based Dubai Group was initially a majority stakeholder, but KOP is now mainly held by the two women.

Indonesia-born Ms Suparman, 39, is now a Singapore citizen, and before setting up KOP, worked with property consultancy firm CBRE.

Since its maiden project in 2007 developing the Scotts Spazio office building next to Newton MRT station, it has also attracted attention with its Hamilton Scotts project, whose “sky garages” let owners park their cars next to their high-rise living rooms.

“We are a relatively young company, so there is still a lot of brand building. Iconic projects allow you to have a name,” said Ms Ong.

For its Shanghai project, KOP will use its own funds and bank borrowings, and may also tap the market to raise money. It recently staged a $150 million reverse takeover of Scorpio East, a firm listed here, to gain access to capital markets.

Ms Ong said coming up with the plans for the mammoth project was no walk in the park. KOP spent about nine months researching and crunching data to come up with a feasible proposal.

“It was quite tedious,” noted Ms Ong.

KOP will essentially play the role of a connector, pulling in many partners, including the Russian firm, to help with different parts of the development.

The Russian company, which Ms Ong declined to name citing an ongoing restructuring, initially wanted to build just a ski slope.

But KOP did not think a pure ski slope similar to those found elsewhere, including in Dubai, would work. “I am familiar with Ski Dubai, it is making money, but I think it is not as interesting as a full resort,” Ms Ong said.

Ski Dubai is a 2.25ha indoor ski resort in Dubai’s gargantuan Mall of the Emirates, which became the first indoor ski resort in the Middle East when it opened in 2006.

It features man-made ski slopes, a 3,000 sq m snow park and penguins. A day pass for the ski slopes costs 300 dirhams an adult, or just over S$100.

It would be easily dwarfed by Winterland Shanghai, which will sit on an 18ha plot as big as Kampong Bugis in Singapore, and cover a gross floor area of 80ha.

Tourism analysts said building the resort in Shanghai was a good move.

“Shanghai is a global city with a tremendous population base… Domestic tourism flows from within China should bode well for the project,” said Mr Jonathan Galaviz, managing director of consultancy Galaviz and Co.

Dr Michael Chiam, a senior lecturer in tourism at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, said building a bigger project in Shanghai would be better for business. “A huge project can attract worldwide attention. If the ski slope is small, it may not be attractive.”

Singapore developers are not hampered by the island’s lack of experience with winter as they have the “technological know-how” and can adapt to “branch out into something that is not native to us”, he said.

Although this is KOP’s first project in China, Ms Ong plans to finish the project in five years.

“What is important to us is, we know where to get the partners, we persevere, we are very down-to-earth in our execution.

“In KOP, everything is very hands-on, and we are very cost conscious. We have a very good business plan behind it.”

Ms Suparman said the firm hopes to tap the network of real estate players in Shanghai that she built up while in CBRE.

When completed by 2018, Winterland Shanghai will include three to four hotels with about 1,000 rooms in total. A natural river flows through the site, which can be used for water sports.

Ms Ong added that Winterland Shanghai’s “beach club”, which will have sand and a pool in an outdoor arena, would take its cue from Miami’s Nikki Beach Club and Ku De Ta in Bali.

With this mega project looming, Ms Ong said the firm is sparing no effort to research and get the right partners.

“We will assemble a full consortium of people providing the services,” she said. “The difficult part is always when you have new frontiers. But if we actually do this well, then it brings us to a different level.”

Source: Straits Times - 22 Dec 2013