KUALA Lumpur City Hall’s (DBKL) hopes of turning the majestic Carcosa Seri Negara into a tourist attraction may be dashed if a private company succeeds in getting the lease of the more-than-a-century-old colonial mansion.
According to a source in DBKL, a foreign company is eyeing the building for its business and is in talks with the property and land management division of the Prime Minister’s Department (JPM), which owns the said property.
JPM appointed DBKL to manage the property after the lease held by Saujana Hotels and Resorts expired on Dec 1, 2015.
When contacted, Mohd Najib confirmed that a proposal to lease Carcosa was submitted by a company but nothing was confirmed yet.
In a previous interview with StarMetro, DBKL executive director (planning) Datuk Mohd Najib Mohd said the government was determined that the building be restored to its former glory and opened to the public.
Mohd Najib said City Hall was looking at companies with a good track record in hotel management to carry out the day-to-day operations of the property.
Last year, Federal Territories Minister Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Mansor had told a local business weekly that DBKL had the mandate to find a partner in a joint venture to expand the mansion by adding more rooms.
He said that since it was a gazetted heritage building, it was crucial that the new building follow the existing colonial design.
Tengku Adnan added that DBKL wanted Carcosa Seri Negara to be a luxury accommodation once the conservation and development work was completed.
“We were surprised too, but we are hoping the original plan to turn it into a hotel will be maintained,” he said, adding that it was one of Kuala Lumpur’s treasures.
Badan Warisan president Elizabeth Cardosa said the historical, architectural, aesthetic and social significance of Carcosa and Seri Negara were recognised by National Heritage Department (JWN) and gazetted as a National Heritage building under the National Heritage Act 645 (2005).
“This does not mean that these significant places should solely be retained as memorials of the past, but rather that they should be used and enjoyed in a way which generates value to society.
“It is often difficult to maintain these sites at only public or private expense and to ensure they remain sustainable, they may need to be adapted to new use, which is likely to require some physical change,” she said.
Cardosa explained that for acknowledged National Heritage assets, any change must retain and enhance the asset's heritage value and significance while avoiding or minimising harm.
“The owners and regulatory authorities must ensure that economic benefits are balanced with public interest and that a rigorous process is put into place in order to reach a publicly justifiable decision.
“We hope Carcosa Seri Negara will continue to be open and accessible, whatever its future use may be,” Cardosa said.
Carcosa Seri Negara, which operated as boutique hotel from 1989 onwards, is located on 1.6ha of land near the National Botanical Garden.
The mansion had first been leased to Landmark Hotels and Realty Sdn Bhd on a 10-year renewable contract basis.
From 2004 to 2010, it was managed by General Hotel Management Ltd (GHM) and in 2010, Saujana Hotels & Resorts (SHR) took over.
SHR was the hospitality flagship of Malaysian-owned Peremba Group, which also managed two other luxury hotels in Kuala Lumpur — Saujana Hotel Kuala Lumpur and The Club Saujana Resort Kuala Lumpur.
After the expiry of the lease, it reverted to the property and land management division of JPM.
Carcosa Seri Negara was the official residence of the first Resident-General to the Federated Malay States Sir Frank Swettenham, who moved into the mansion, designed by British architect Arthur Benison Hubback, in 1904.
When Malaysia gained independence in 1957, Carcosa remained the property of the British government until 1987.
Carcosa Seri Negara was opened in 1913 as the official guesthouse for the Governor of the Straits Settlement and was later referred to as King’s House.