SINCE George Town received Unesco World Heritage Site (WHS) status in 2008, over RM46.3mil has been allocated to restoration work in four major heritage projects.
The most well-known of these heritage properties restored are the Choong Lye Hock mansion and the Loke Thye Kee building.
The other two restoration projects are by Asian Global Business (AGB) and Public Packages Holdings Bhd involving commercial offices and warehouses built in the early 20th century at Weld Quay and Church Street Ghaut.
The AGB Group is restoring two early 20th century commercial and warehouse properties to be an integrated RM220mil Rice Miller Hotel and Residences, which is an in-fill development project.
An in-fill development involves constructing a project from scratch.
The cost of restoring a heritage project depends on the quality of finishing used and normally ranges between RM300 and RM400 per sq ft.
Sometimes a company spends more for restoration because of the condition and age of the property.
A prime heritage property in George Town can fetch rental of between RM5 and RM10 per sq ft, which means that a 2,000 sq ft heritage property strategically located can generate a rental of RM10,000 to RM20,000 a month, according to Henry Butcher Malaysia (Penang) vice-president Shawn Ong.
The Choong Lye Hock mansion restoration project, located on 48,943 sq ft at Macalister Road, was undertaken by local businessman Datuk Sean H'ng and his wife Datin Karen H'ng.
The Choong Lye Hock mansion belonged to a tycoon and philanthropist, who bought the property in the late-1890s.
Lye Hock is the father of local millionaire Ch'ng Eng Hye and the grandfather of badminton legend Datuk Eddy Choong.
The restored building, now known as Macalister Mansion (MM), has eight hotel rooms, two restaurants called The Dining Room and The Living Room, and two bars called the Bagan Bar and The Den.
Macalister Mansion opened its doors to the public in April 2012.
According to MM public relations director Josephine Leong, the planning and the restoration work for the 17,286 sq ft mansion took about 20 months.
“This is corporate responsibility initiative project to demonstrate that old colonial buildings can be regenerated into useful and practical spaces with a contemporary feel.
“Some eight months were spent on planning the design with a Singapore-based interior design company, Ministry of Design (MOD) to produce stunning interior designs.
“It took us 12 months to restore and reinforce the original columns, staircases and archways, original brick walls and wall cornices.
Leong says the Macalister Mansion project was more about a labour of love.
“The owners want to raise the bar in the boutique hotel scene in Penang. As global travellers, they would like to bring back that differentiated hotel experience where guests get to enjoy a more personalised and intimate level of service within luxurious surroundings,” Leong adds.
Raine & Horne Malaysia director Michael Geh says about RM2mil or about RM630 per sq ft was spent on restoring Loke Thye Kee, known as the oldest restaurant in Penang, at Burmah Road.
According to Geh, a local investment company, Loke Thye Kee.com, set up by Singaporean investors, bought the double-storey property from a local businessman some about six years ago.
“About two years, which included also the time to obtain the green light from the local authorities for renovation, was spent on restoring the building with approximately 3,200sq ft of built-up area.
“It has been leased to a local company called Food People Sdn Bhd, which plans to set up soon a Hainanese restaurant, and food and beverage outlets,” he says.
Known as the House of Happiness in Hainanese, the Loke Thye Kee restaurant was established by brothers Loy Kok Boon and Loy Kok Dai, who leased the building from local businessman and philanthropist Khoo Sian Ewe.
Loke Thye Kee serves traditional Hainanese and Western cuisine such as curry kapitan, choon piah, and chicken chop.
AGB Group spent RM21.5mil or RM860 per sq ft to restore two heritage commercial and warehouse properties built in the early 20th century at Weld Quay.
AGB chief executive officer Dr Noraini Abdullah says the restoration turned out to be costly because a lot of work had to be done for strengthening the physical buildings, as their conditions were bad.
“About RM16mil was spent for restoring and reinforcing the physical infrastructure of the warehouse building, which serves as the event hall of the Rice Miller Hotel.
“Another RM5.5mil was spent in restoring a 5,000 sq ft colonial commercial building that will serve as the restaurant for the Rice Miller Hotel,” she adds.
The Rice Miller Hotel and Residences project is scheduled for completion next August and scheduled for opening in Dec 2013.
It will comprise 48 hotel suites, 99 city residences, which range between 800 and 2,500 sq ft in built-up, 23 retail lots of 600 sq ft, and two blocks of five-storey office buildings.
“In the past 12 months, we have sold 50% of the retail lots and city residences. Most of the buyers comprise Penangites and investors from Ipoh and Kuala Lumpur,” she adds.
Next to the Rice Miller Hotel and Residences project, Public Packages Holdings Bhd (PPHB) is restoring two heritage double-storey commercial properties with over 39,632 sq ft to be integrated into a RM50mil in-fill heritage hotel cum commercial project located at Church Street Ghaut, off Beach Street, which is popularly known as the central banking district.
PPHB hotel project manager Tony Koay says the group would spend RM15.8mil or RM400 per sq ft to restore the two heritage properties with fittings.
“One of the heritage commercial building with 11,000sq ft will be restored as part of the in-fill heritage hotel.
“The other heritage property with 28,632sq ft will be restored for commercial and office usage,” he says.
Koay says the advantage of carrying out infill development work for the heritage hotel project was that one could maximise the interior of the buildings to suit the needs of modern business usage.
The cost per sq ft to develop a heritage hotel from scratch with furnishings is about RM1,000 per sq ft, says Koay.
“A problem with restoring a heritage building for hotel usage is that the interior of such heritage buildings restricts the utilisation of space,” he says.
Koay adds that the in-fill heritage hotel would have over 150,000 sq ft of built-up area, 150 rooms, a business centre, meeting rooms, two-level of basement car-park, and retail shops on the ground floor.
“The architectural style for the hotel follows the design of late 19th and early 20th century port offices and warehouse buildings in George Town.
“We are targeting the upmarket tourists,” Koay says.
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