From oil palm estate to award winning township

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IT is hard to believe that just over a decade ago, what is now known as Setia Alam was a sprawling oil palm estate that was only accessible via Jalan Meru, a small trunk road in Klang, Selangor. Now, even on a weekday morning, a constant stream of traffic can be observed heading in and out of S P Setia Bhd's flagship development in Shah Alam, Selangor.

A drive around the well-planned township reveals that business is bustling at the shopoffices in the early phases that face the trunk road. Setia City Mall, the township's first mall, is fast becoming a favourite haunt for Shah Alam and Klang folks and is packed during the weekends. Construction activity at many of the key projects around the 240-acre Setia City green commercial centre is also progressing quickly.

Bandar Setia Alam Sdn Bhd divisional general manager Tan Hon Lim says that initially, the inaccessibility of the site proved to be the major challenge for the team. He was speaking to the City & Country team after they had taken a short tour around the township.

"This is why the vast majority of our customers for the earlier phases came from Klang. However, we started getting more customers from various parts of the Klang Valley and other states following the opening of our RM200 million interchange in 2006," he says.

The interchange that runs through the heart of the township and connects Setia Alam to the North Klang Valley Expressway effectively opened up the northern region of Shah Alam to the rest of Klang Valley. Today, the township is about 50% developed.

But all the efforts have paid off considering how vibrant the township is today. S P Setia has had its fair share of awards and recognition in the past few years. On May 27, the group added yet another feather to its cap when Setia Alam won the Gold award for the Best Master Plan at the Fiabci Prix d'Excellence Awards 2013 in Taichung, Taiwan. Fiabci is the French acronym for International Real Estate Federation.

The beginning

The Setia Alam story began when in 2002, S P Setia acquired a 4,000-acre freehold former plantation, North Hummock Estate in Shah Alam, from the family that controlled See Hoy Chan Group.

Of the 4,000 acres, about 605 acres were sold to the Selangor State Development Corporation (PKNS). Another 791 acres comprise the award-winning, eco-themed Setia Eco Park — a joint venture between three parties: S P Setia, Great Eastern Life Assurance (M) Bhd and the Employees Provident Fund.

The rest of the tract makes up Setia Alam. The first phase was launched in 2004 and today, the developer has sold 13,000 homes in both Setia Alam and Setia Eco Park.

Some 10,000 units have been handed over and up to 9,000 homes occupied, says Tan. Setia Alam is made up of 14 precincts, with about 10% of the area gazetted for green spaces.

The heart of Setia Alam

The first mall in the township — Setia City Mall, opened in June 2012. The mall has a net lettable area of 740,000 sq ft, with anchor-tenant Parkson department store taking up 120,000 sq ft of retail space.

Other tenants include Golden Screen Cinemas, Fitness First, MPH Bookstores, Harvey Norman, Courts and Urbanfresh supermarket. The mall is also home to a wide range of fashion retailers such as Uniqlo, Zara, Guess, Esprit, La Senza, ALDO and Nichii. The mall has a 10.5-acre park with play facilities for children and a water jet plaza.

Setia City Mall is located within the 240-acre Setia City green commercial centre, which has a gross development value of RM5 billion. Future developments will include office towers, a medical centre, colleges, serviced apartments and a hotel.

The Setia City Convention Centre — the township's latest pride and joy, opened its doors to the public in late 2012. Response to the centre, which can accommodate up to 200 tables, has been so overwhelming that it has already been booked up to March next year. There are already plans for further extension of the centre. Also in the pipeline is a hotel, to be managed by S P Setia.

Asked about the hotel's name, Tan chuckles and says the group is in the process of making a decision. "We want to be able to come up with a name that represents the Setia brand. How does the name Setia Hotel sound to you?"

He points towards a site along the main road of the township that is being cleared. "That site is being cleared to make way for the future 1 National Institute of Health Complex (1NIH). The complex will house the various national health institutes and relevant supporting offices and research centres under the ministry's [Ministry of Health's] purview," he says.

In exchange, S P Setia will get about 50 acres of government land along Jalan Bangsar, which will be redeveloped into an integrated mixed-use residential and commercial project.

S P Setia's future headquarters is also being constructed in the area. Other corporate names that will be based in Setia City commercial centre include Top Glove Corp Bhd, Khind Holdings Bhd, Century Logistics Holdings Bhd and Brickdotcom Sdn Bhd.

All the office towers and commercial space in the Setia City commercial centre will be Green Building Index (GBI) rated with a gold or platinum certification, says Tan.

Moving north

To date, about half of the RM14 billion township has been launched. Tan credits the success of the self-contained township to the Setia brand, lenient financial packages offered by bankers and enhanced connectivity. Other factors include a good product mix, allocation of green space and the strong community spirit of the people in the township.

"Most of the southern parts of Setia Alam have been launched. We will be moving our activities north from now on," he says, adding that there is about 10 years to go before the township is completed.

The developer has successfully launched three projects in Setia Alam this year so far. The first was a range of low to medium-cost apartments, which were sold via balloting. This was followed by a series of 3 to 4-storey shophouses. The developer then launched phase 2 of Dutavilla, an exclusive gated and guarded community featuring 3-storey link houses priced from RM1.8 million. Dutavilla enjoys an unobstructed 360° view of the entire township, as it is located on the highest site in Setia Alam.

Next to be launched later this year is a series of 2½-storey link houses fitted with green features, including a rainwater harvesting system. According to Tan, the houses will be priced at about RM800,000.

Prices continue to soar

The houses in Setia Alam have seen substantial capital appreciation in the past few years, with prices rising sharply through the years, almost rivalling trends in Kuala Lumpur.

According to the locals, the enhanced accessibility and amenities in Setia Alam have caused a spillover effect, with prices also going up in existing properties along Jalan Meru and in nearby townships such as Sime Darby's Bandar Bukit Raja, Klang.

One of the first homes launched in 2004 was a series of 18ft by 65ft 2-storey terraced houses. "We sold them at RM168,000. The same units are now being transacted on the secondary market for about RM400,000!" he says.

Similarly, a 30ft by 55ft cluster home, which was launched in 2004 at RM250,000, is now fetching a cool RM530,000 in the market. Prices for a 40ft by 85ft semi-detached house, launched in 2005, have risen by 112%.

However, the highest spike in prices has been seen in shop offices in Setia Alam, with prices appreciating a whopping 291% for a 5,382 sq ft unit in Eramas 1,2,3 — one of the township's earliest phases.

Another win for S P Setia

S P Setia had in previous years won the Fiabci Prix d'Excellence Award for Best Master Plan for Setia  Eco Park, Selangor (2007), Best Master Plan for Setia Eco Gardens, Johor (2009), Runner up for Best Master Plan for EcoLakes, My Phuoc, Vietnam (2010), Best Residential (Low-Rise) Development for Setia Eco Park, Selangor (2011) and Best Purpose-Built/ Specialised Project for Eco Greens, Setia Eco Gardens, Johor (2012).

The developer was ranked No 1 in The Edge Malaysia Top Property Developers Awards for the seventh time in 2012 — the only developer to have achieved this feat since the inception of the awards. The group's president and CEO Tan Sri Liew Kee Sin was also the recipient of the inaugural The Edge Malaysia Outstanding Property Personality Award 2012 for his achievements in raising the profile of his company in the country and internationally.

This story first appeared in The Edge weekly edition of Jun3-9, 2013.