Investor hurdles adversity to pursue ski resort dream

URUMQI: More than three years after securing the rights to build a ski resort in the Tian Shan mountains, an hour's drive from Urumqi in northwestern Xinjiang province, developers have yet to begin construction.

But the freeze on the development could be lifted soon, according to Thomas Ching, president and chief executive of PingTian Resorts, a consortium of investors formed to undertake the project.

"Certainly, the past two years have been very challenging. But having said that, all problems will come and go," Ching said. "However, the funding is now pretty much lined up for the next couple of months, and construction should start soon."

In April 2007, Ching forecast that phase one of the resort would be opened by November of that year, and later said it would open in November 2008, explaining that the delay was due to the developers wanting more time to meet strict, self-imposed quality standards, as well as the complexity of securing approvals.

The forecast now is for the whole project to be developed over the next 10 years at an estimated total investment cost of US$1 billion (RM3.19 billion). Phase one of the development, which will include the completion of a ski area of 153 hectares, 250 residential units and a 250-room hotel, should be ready by the third quarter of 2015.

When completed by 2021, the proposed resort, on a 4,850-hectare site, will provide 1,617 flats, three hotels with 475 rooms, and 41,770 square feet of commercial space. It aims to provide accommodation for 6,610 visitors, and expects to play host to 700,000 skiers per year.

PingTian Resorts has commissioned United States landscape and architectural design firm SE Group to complete the planning and design of the resort, said Ching, an American-Chinese and avid skier. PingTian secured the development rights of the site in 2007, and while the terrain offers 650 hectares for skiers in winter, the proposed resort — to be built 2,000 metres above sea level — will also feature three golf courses of 54 holes for summer vacationers.

The ambitious project was further stalled by the outbreak of the global financial crisis, ethnic clashes in Xinjiang, and the deepening debt crisis in Europe, said Ching, who is the largest shareholder in PingTian Resorts, which is a wholly owned foreign enterprise headquartered in Urumqi. The consortium comprises American and Hong Kong investors.

Ching has been conducting business in China since 1987, when he arrived in Hong Kong to set up a petroleum processing operation in China.

The Xinjiang government had intended to develop the Tian Shan site into a resort destination since 1989, said Ching, and in 2007 it signed a letter of intent with PingTian to develop the area into a year-round resort.

After two decades of conducting business in China, Ching said he realised the potential of the leisure industry and growing demand for such services from the country's increasingly affluent society. Being an avid skier, he decided to engage in the ski industry.

He moved from Hong Kong to Urumqi three years ago while his wife and children stay in the US.

Ching believes the project would benefit from the central government's efforts to boost the economic growth of Xinjiang over the next five years. "It will provide huge job opportunities once construction begins on the infrastructure and facilities," he said. — South China Morning Post
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