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Kwek Leng Beng, Among Singapore's Three Richest Persons, Spearheaded
 the 543 room Millennium Hilton Hotel Development in Bangkok
By Umesh Pandey, Bangkok Post, Thailand
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

May 29, 2006 - Singapore's City Development Limited, one of the city state's largest property developers and hotel owners, is looking to expand its presence in Thailand both organically and through investment.

"We have never said that we want to shy away from any kind of growth, if and when there is the right opportunity, we will look at it," said Kwek Leng Beng, the executive chairman of CDL.

Mr Kwek, who is ranked among Singapore's three richest men with nearly US$4.5 billion in assets as estimated by Forbes magazine, said he saw Thailand as a good long-term investment destination, despite the small problem that the country was witnessing from anti-Singapore sentiment.

"We don't think this is a permanent issue. We are not here to look at Thailand in the short term, we look at least to the medium to long term and on this scale, Thailand is the place to invest," he said.

"There maybe some hiccups, but that doesn't deter us from our long-term goal," Mr Kwek added.

As part of the overall expansion in Thailand, CDL, a member of the Hong Leong Group, has invested billions of baht in properties in the country. With its local and foreign partners, on Friday it officially launched the Millennium Hilton Hotel in Bangkok and plans to open other properties such as the Millennium Sukhumvit and Millennium Residence in Sukhumvit Soi 18. It has also acquired the Exchange Tower, once an abandoned highrise at the Sukhumvit-Asok intersection.

CDL will additionally take on a major hotel and retail complex in Patong, Phuket. The Phuket Jungceylon project involves about 90,000 square metres of retail space, more than 900 car-parking spaces, as well as a hotel with more than 400 rooms.

Mr Kwek said the company had made more than $200 million in equity investments in various projects in Thailand.

The group declined to give many details about the Millennium Hilton, citing the competitive market environment, but said the long-abandoned building on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River took "slightly more" than the 1.4 billion baht the group had budgeted for renovation.

Purchased from an asset-management company after having being abandoned by its former owners, the 543-room, 32-storey hotel was redesigned as a five-star complex, marking CDL's first entry into the hotel segment in Thailand.

"We're the new kid on the block and our intention is to stay in the hotel/real estate segment, although we have various other operations across the world ranging from steel to refrigerators, we intend to focus on real estate as it is our core competence," Mr Kwek said.

As part of its growing operations, the group has already purchased 15 rai of freehold land on Sukhumvit Soi 18 and plans to build four condominiums offering 604 high-end units by the end of 2008.

M.R. Chatumongol Sonakul, a former Bank of Thailand governor and an adviser to the group, said pricing for nearly 100,000 sq m of space in the four condominium units would range from 90,000 to 105,000 baht per sq m. The site would be accessible from Sukhumvit sois 16, 18 and 20.


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Copyright (c) 2006, Bangkok Post, Thailand

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