A world-class cultural attraction that had initially been earmarked within the capital as part of the government's Economic Transformation Programme has yet to receive approval from Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL).
The project with the working title Malaysia Truly Asia Centre is a concept under Khazanah Nasional Bhd's leisure and tourism arm, Themed Attractions and Resorts Sdn Bhd (TAR) — was originally slated for launch as early as next year.
However, the project has been delayed, possibly due to the relocation of quarters and land lease matters that are being handled by DBKL, says a source.
It was reported that the one-stop centre would sit on a 26.59ha site bordered by the National Monument, Padang Merbok, Bank Negara Malaysia's Lanai Kijang residential complex and Istana Selangor.
The source adds that the project involves several pockets of land, and the deal could involve private owners and structures of historical value.
The delay has led to speculation that the land eyed by TAR has also caught the attention of tycoon Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar Albukhary.
In an interview with The Edge recently, TAR's chief executive officer Tunku Ahmad Burhanuddin confirmed that the project is still at the "conceptual stage".
"There is a lot that needs to be done before we can begin groundwork," he says.
He explains that although TAR had worked on The Malaysia Truly Asia Centre for several years, the project's masterplan could change.
He also confirms that Padang Merbok or Lake Gardens is one of the sites TAR is exploring. However, he did not discount the possibility that the project could be shelved or moved to a location outside Kuala Lumpur, such as in Putrajaya.
"Padang Merbok is one of the sites," Tunku Ahmad says, noting that the area is green and there are several government buildings and structures that have been there since the 1960s.
If approval is given, he adds, the project will take into consideration structures that are worth saving.
Incorporated in 2009, TAR is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Khazanah that is tasked to develop, manage and operate theme parks and attractions. It owns Kidzania, Legoland Malaysia and Puteri Harbour Family Theme Park, among others.
When asked if The Malaysia Truly Asia Centre is on track for completion by 2016, Tunku Ahmad explains that it is hard to put a finger on a date, due to the nature and interest of the project.
Plans to open the centre, which will leverage on the "Malaysia Truly Asia" brand, were announced last year. A partnership between TAR and DBKL, the centre is designed to draw tourists coming into the capital from the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA), before returning to the airport to continue their journey to other parts of the country or overseas.
On plans to take TAR public, Tunku Ahmad admits that although the company has successfully drawn crowds to its theme parks, which were opened last year, TAR still needs a "track record" before it goes for listing.
At present, only 40% of the arrivals at Legoland in Nusajaya consist of tourists including Singaporeans, while the remaining 60% is largely made up of locals.
Bloomberg recently reported that Khazanah is planning to raise as much as US$400 million (RM1.25 billion) from TAR's IPO. The report also said the IPO could take place as soon as this year.
Khazanah's managing director Tan Sri Azman Mokhtar did not discount the possibility of an IPO in the pipeline.
"The theme parks saw close to three million visitors per year in the first 12 to 18 months, which was beyond our expectations. But we need to see if the achievements can still stick," he said recently.
Apart from its existing theme park offerings in Nusajaya (Legoland Malaysia and Puteri Harbour Family Theme Park) and Klang Valley (Kidzania), TAR is developing the Ocean Splash Water Park and Ocean Quest Marine Park on Desaru Coast in eastern Johor. The water and marine parks are slated for completion in 2014.
Meanwhile, Kidzania Singapore, which is TAR's second Kidzania operation through its joint venture with Boustead Holdings Bhd, is due to open in 2015.
Tunku Ahmad says although TAR has several projects that have yet to come to fruition, he did not discount the possibility of expanding its operations to Penang, which could be next on the cards.
This story first appeared in The Edge weekly edition of July 1-7, 2013.
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