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New mall creates buzz

As lifestyles change so do the preferences of retail shoppers. Once, our parents or grandparents skirted murky puddles at smelly wet markets for weekly groceries; nowadays, their offspring prefer to do their shopping in air-conditioned comfort. At the new Tropicana City Mall in SS20, such comforts and more await this new generation of shoppers.

Petaling Jaya's latest mall is part of Dijaya Corp Bhd's RM310 million Tropicana City development sandwiched between Damansara Utama and SS2.

Work on Tropicana City began in September 2006 and the flagship Tropicana City Mall, one of the development's key components, opened last month. Since then, the mall has been creating a buzz in the Klang Valley with many interested consumers — and competitors — watching to see if this new kid on the block will make any headway during the global economic slowdown.

However, Dijaya Corp managing director Tong Kien Oon is confident the mall and its sister structures will weather the economic storm. "A property cycle comes and goes. We expected a downturn but we never thought it to be so severe. Despite this, we hope the slowdown will reverse by the time the serviced apartments and all the other things are ready," he says.

The other components that make up Tropicana City are Tropicana City Tropics serviced suites, Tropicana City Office Tower and Tropicana City Business Park (which is the existing Damansara Intan that opened in 1996).

Excluding Damansara Intan, which is waiting for approval to be renamed Tropicana City Business Park, the other venues sit on about 9.1 acres of freehold land at the junction of the Sprint Highway and the LDP. Although just a stone's throw from larger retail malls like 1 Utama, The Curve and Ikano Power Centre, Tong is realistic about Tropicana City Mall's positioning.

"We don't aim to compete with 1 Utama and The Curve. It is a bit late for us to compete with them as they have expanded. They are more like regional malls while we are more of a neighbourhood mall," he explains, adding that regional malls like Mid Valley Megamall, Suria KLCC and 1 Utama have a wider catchment area while a neighbourhood mall caters to the surrounding communities.

"Our primary catchment areas are SS2, Section 17, the Damansara vicinity, Taman Tun Dr Ismail and places close to the mall. There is a big population of 350,000 around here, which is sufficient for this place. That's why since Carrefour opened, it has been doing pretty well. So to me, there is no point competing; instead it is actually more of complementing each other," says Tong.

Changing concepts
In 1997, piling work on the site had already commenced but Dijaya Corp had different plans for the property. "The concept changed from strictly a mall to a mixed development," shares Quek Cham Hong, Dijaya Corp executive director. However, the 1997/98 Asian financial crisis threw a spanner into the works, putting a stop to further developments until 2001 when an Australian consultant was engaged to re-evaluate the development concept. The consultant's research findings suggested that the property would be best served as a mixed development rather than just a mall. Plans were revised and construction began on the super structure in late 2006.

Visiting the mall for the first time, visitors will be greeted with several outlets boarded up to hide renovation work although the brightly lit complex, with its wide boulevards and clean lines, is now seeing a steady stream of curious onlookers and neighbourhood residents.

During the day, an abundance of natural sunlight streams in from a glass dome skylight. In the evening, the cool environment makes for a relaxing stroll.

Also, patrons to the mall can be seen dressed in casual attire, adding to the homely and cosy environment that is a refreshing change from the larger malls that force you to rethink your wardrobe before stepping out of the house for fear of a fashion faux pas.

Currently, Dijaya Corp has leased out more than 85% of the 450,000 sq ft nett lettable space across four levels, with 65% now open for business. Rents range from RM7 to RM20 psf. The main anchor tenant is Carrefour, which occupies about 123,000 sq ft on the lower ground. The patronage of this French hypermarket chain is encouraging. Already long lines can be seen at the check-out counters.

Mini anchors, such as Nichii, Kitschen, Shop-A-Lot, Best Denki, Borders, Gymboree, Toys "R" Us and GSC Multiplex, make up some of the larger retailers to cater to the various needs of consumers. Along with them are other small stores providing value-for-money products and services.

First-time retailers opening for business soon are Bad Ass Coffee, Good Taste Café, Sushi Tei, Sorella, Red Army Watches, Kidz Spot and BodyBar Natural Skincare.

Bad Ass Coffee originates from Hawaii and is reputed to serve some really good coffee, so caffeine lovers will have another outlet to satisfy their addiction. Sushi Tei from Singapore is a popular sushi bar that has a strong footprint regionally and has, significantly, chosen Tropicana City Mall to open its first outlet in Malaysia.

In addition, there is a host of other F&B outlets ranging from simple Chinese cuisine to Western fare.
Gaining popularity
Even though the mall has only been opened for a short while, the human traffic has been encouraging. "Since our opening last Dec 18 to Jan 11, 60,000 cars have come to the mall. If each car has four occupants, we estimate that 240,000 people have visited the mall. Although our peak periods are the weekends, we've noticed that some of our other peak times are in the evening during weekdays," says Mabel Tan, Tropicana City Mall's senior manager for marketing. That number is likely to increase, as in a couple of months shoppers can expect another 10% of tenants to start operation, with the last retailer, Golden Screen Cinema, opening in June.

The entrance to the mall is via the Sprint Highway from Section 17. Two ramps, costing about RM17 million, are under construction. One, to be opened by end-January or early February, will facilitate entry and exit to the mall from Jalan Damansara Lama. Another ramp, which is only for exit, merges with the Sprint Highway (heading towards Tropicana Golf & Country Resort), and is scheduled to be ready by April 2009.

Damansara Intan, awaiting to be renamed Tropicana City Business Park, is fully occupied with 533 offices averaging 1,200 sq ft in size. Still under construction is the Tropicana City Tropics serviced suites and the Tropicana City Office Tower.

The 29-storey serviced suites sits atop the mall and has 601 units, with an average size of 600 sq ft. About 78% is sold, with another 150 units still available. The units are currently going for RM440 psf and slated to be completed by 2Q2010 with a gross development value of RM120 million.

The 12-storey Tropicana City Office Tower on the other hand, is scheduled for completion by June 2009, with a nett lettable area of 105,000 sq ft. Rents start at about RM4.50 psf and the building is connected to the mall via the basement carpark, the ground level and a bridge on the first floor.

Recurring income
For Dijaya Corp, which is known for its upscale residential properties like the Tropicana Golf & Country Resort and small commercial developments like Merchant Square, Tropicana City Mall is its first shopping complex project. The company sees the entire Tropicana City development as a good way to provide streams of alternative revenue.

"In the Klang Valley, it's becoming increasingly difficult to get good landbank. If you do find any, it's very expensive. So we decided to develop Tropicana City to generate recurring income for the group. We decided to sell the serviced apartments to help ease some of the cash flow when building the mall," says Tong, adding that based on initial estimates after settling the bank loans, the nett cash inflow should be about RM18 million to RM20 million per annum.

Nonetheless, this will not override the property developer's signature residential developments. While some developers may be mulling putting the brakes on new projects in the wake of the economic downturn, Dijaya Corp is pushing ahead with various projects.

In the pipeline are several ventures in the planning stages: a lifestyle/commercial-cum-residential development on a 12-acre site in Tropicana Indah, opposite Dataran Sunway; a fully residential project on a 20-acre site in Sungai Long; and a resort-like development on a 80-acre site in Balakong. All these schemes are to commence at end-2009.

However, the crème de la crème of its current developments is the super-condominium project called Tropicana Grande. Called "super" due to its large build-up ratio, all units will have a golf course view and range from 2,500 to 4,500 sq ft, with one or two units hitting the 6,000 sq ft mark. A show unit, located within Tropicana Golf & Country Resort, will be ready in March for prospective buyers.

Even with the challenging times ahead, Dijaya Corp is gearing up to grow its business in anticipation of an improved market when the financial storm subsides.

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