City & Country: 'Unique' project finds overwhelming response Down Under

Parque is timely and emphasises our commitment to Melbourne and that we are here for the long haul - Choong

MUSIC legend John Lennon once said, "There's nowhere you can be that isn't where you're meant to be." Some simply call it fate, and the same is true of S P Setia Bhd's second project called Parque in Melbourne, Australia. It is scheduled for a launch in Kuala Lumpur on Sept 7 and in Australia on Sept 21, after the country's federal election on Sept 7.

Aside from the Setia team - headed by Setia Melbourne CEO Choong Kai Wai - the award-winning architect Karl Fender of Fender Katsalidis Architects and - a first for such a project in Melbourne - celebrity chef Shannon Bennett, who will design the kitchen of all the units and the common kitchen on the club level, are involved in the project. Paul Bangay, one of Australia's leading landscape designers, will be in charge of Parque's landscape, especially the much-anticipated private garden that will include heritage elm trees.

Bennett is said to be one of the most famous chefs in Melbourne and is also a brand ambassador for Miele and Audi. He is the chef and owner of Vue de Monde, one of Australia's most acclaimed restaurants, that is located on the 55th floor of Rialto Tower, the second highest tower in Melbourne. Eureka Tower is currently the tallest building in the city and Fender designed it.

Fender is also the architect of S P Setia's first project in the city, called Fulton Lane. To recap, Fulton Lane was launched almost two years ago and has since seen a take-up of over 90%. The one-acre development is located in the central business district and is just minutes from the Queen Victoria Market and close to RMIT University, La Trobe University and Melbourne University. It is set for completion in 2014.

Bennett and Choong, however, first met in the lift of Rialto Tower 2? years ago. At the time, S P Setia's office was in the building and Bennett was opening the Vue de Monde (French for "view of the world"). They kept bumping into each other in the lift and started talking and Bennett invited Choong to dine at his restaurant.

Celebrity chef Shannon Bennett will design the kitchens in Parque

Choong laughingly recalls how he was not aware back then that Bennett was a well-known chef who had, in fact, made special guest appearances on the famous MasterChef Australia show. He eventually dined at Vue de Monde and the rest, as they say, is history.

As a group of us sat down for a truly exciting culinary adventure in Vue de Monde on a Friday afternoon, looking out at the beautiful city below, it was hard not to notice the mutual respect and admiration between Choong, Fender and Bennett.

Apart from the synergy between the developer, architect, celebrity chef and landscape designer, Parque, which comprises apartments, is an exciting project with many winning points. Parque means "park" in Spanish, which is apt for the project because it will be built around the heritage elm trees on the site.

It is located in St Kilda Road, which is Australia's premier boulevard, likened to Embassy Row in Kuala Lumpur as there are many consulate offices and old palatial homes. As we drove along the tree-lined boulevard last week, it became clear that the exclusive address -with high-rises, both commercial and residential, on either side of the wide road - was ideal. It is 3km from the heart of the city and the lovely Albert Park, which includes a lake and an 18-hole public golf course, is just a three-minute walk away while Wesley College is located across the road. St Kilda beach is just a four minutes drive away.

In fact, the Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit runs around Albert Park Lake, which is used for various other races, including the Formula One, as well. There is also a tram stop just minutes from the project and it is a 10 minutes tram ride to the central business district.

As the roughly two-acre Parque is next to several heritage buildings, its residents can enjoy views of the over 100-year-old Wesley College, Albert Park,

St Kilda Road or the city, depending on which floor their unit is located and its orientation.

Some of the 150-year-old elm trees that are part of Parque’s private park. This photo was taken on the first day of spring.

According to Choong, St Kilda is a blue-chip location. "It attracts people from all the best parts of Melbourne. When we acquired the site, it came with a planning permit. I remember Tan Sri Liew Kee Sin [S P Setia Bhd president and CEO] was here and he gave me only an hour to show him four sites. He saw this site and agreed that it was beautiful. However, it came with planning for 229 units, so it was very expensive. After negotiating for some time, we acquired it on the condition that we can build 339 units, but when we were close to signing the deal, the owner got the permit. So it became unconditional and came at a good price.

"Another reason we chose the site is that it is the only and perhaps the best residential land left here. Our architect Karl Fender will vouch for that. He made changes to the design envelope to make it more modern. Also, I think for some time, there was a lack of luxurious and quality apartments in Melbourne. What the market saw was affordable units for students.

Our first project in Fulton Lane gave us confidence and Parque is timely and emphasises our commitment to Melbourne and that we are here for the long haul."

Parque will feature a total of 332 apartments in two towers. The first tower will house 101 units, and the second, 231. The one-bedroom, two-bedroom, three-bedroom and penthouses in Parque will have built-ups ranging from 538 sq ft (one bedroom) to almost 2,800 sq ft (penthouse). Prices are from A$390,000 (RM1.16 million) to A$3.6 million. A penthouse was recently sold at A$15,500 per sq m, believed to be the most expensive in the city.

Choong says Parque's prices are at a 10% premium to those of the surrounding developments.

Nevertheless, real estate service provider CBRE in Australia reveals that more than 1,200 have registered interest in Parque's units in the last six weeks. CBRE is the master marketing agent for Parque.

Its managing director (residential projects) Andrew Leoncelli says Parque is unique because enquiries so far have been from top down instead of the typical bottom up. "This is unusual for the Melbourne market. We are selling penthouses first and three-bedroom apartments as well as big two-bedroom apartments to owner-occupiers. This is due to the offerings, quality, the location and the park. It is a unique chance to get into this building and it is attracting a good calibre of prospective purchasers. Usually, it works the other way round. You struggle to sell your most expensive units, so it is a happy problem to have."

Leoncelli adds that response from the locals has been overwhelming. "They are very excited about the project. They identify with the location strongly, so the location is selling itself. The connectivity of the site is amazing. The best suburbs in Melbourne surround us (including St Kilda, South Melbourne, Yarra and the city), so our buyers are coming from these catchments.

"The key selling feature of the project is the park and such a site is very unusual. Everybody loves the idea of having a private garden. We are selling to people from nearby buildings, who are watching what we are doing and they are upgrading. And it is the park that is attracting their attention."

Bennett, Fender and Choong

A private park will take up more than 50% of the site with some beautiful 150-year-old elm trees standing grandly at the entrance. There will be a 35m ceiling grand lobby as well as a small retail space possibly for a cafÈ. There are facilities such as an infinity swimming pool, gym, library, barbecue area, a complete kitchen and living area as well as a massage room. Residents will be spoilt for choice - they can either arrange for a massage, cater or entertain their guests in the kitchen and living area.

Apart from there being no height restrictions in the central business district, there is also shrine vista control in the area. Therefore, Parque is designed to ensure that the view of the Shrine of Remembrance, a war memorial and landmark in the area, will not be blocked. To achieve this, the building has been designed to have various heights, from 19 to 11 floors.

All units come complete with kitchen appliances, wardrobes, lights and floor finishes. There will also be a herb garden on the site in the future that will be planned by Bennett.

Recently, Melbourne was voted the most livable city in the world for the third consecutive year, according to Economist Intelligence Unit's Global Liveability Survey, which bodes very well indeed for S P Setia and Parque.


article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on September 9, 2013.

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