GEORGE TOWN: More information has surfaced, confirming that foreigners own pre-war real estates in the city by the blocks. And this time, it is the “sweetest spot” in the heritage enclave.
Hong Kong nationals own 55 houses around the 80-year-old Penang Road Famous TeoChew Chendul, where busloads of tourists throng daily for the sweet dessert.
“The properties are held by a company called First Multiple Sdn Bhd, but the principal owner is a Hong Kong-based company,” said state executive councillor Chow Kon Yeow.
The houses are in the grids formed by Penang Road, Kimberly Street, Keng Kwee Street, Kuala Kangsar Road and Dr Lim Chwee Leong Road – covering at least 5,000sq m across the road from Komtar.
It is learnt that the Hong Kong company is one of the most highly valued property developers in Asia. The company has responded to The Star’s query but has yet to share its development plans in Penang.
This is not the first foreign property giant known to own substantial pre-war properties here.
In a recent annual report, Singapore’s public-listed Aspial Corporation announced that its wholly-owned subsidiaries possessed 236 pre-war houses here, bought in stages since 2014.
Chow said the Hong Kong company bought the properties in the late 1970s, and it recently earned the ire of the Penang Island City Council.
It submitted applications early last month to restore 15 of the houses and completed renovations on one of them without the council’s approval. The work went on despite warnings to stop. This triggered city council enforcers to appear on Oct 12 with sledgehammers and forcibly undo the renovations.
The contractors used modern wall tiles, flooring, cement and asbestos roofing on Joo Hooi Cafe at the Penang Road-Keng Kwee Street corner, where the cendol stall has operated for decades.
“The owner only had a permit to repair the wiring and toilet. It is a protected building with a southern Chinese eclectic architecture and those materials are not allowed,” Chow said.
Property owners inside the Unesco World Heritage Site cannot do as they please with their assets. They must follow the gazetted George Town Special Area Plan, which strictly defines the commercial activities, renovations and restorations allowed.
On Tuesday, Chow and the council’s Heritage Conservation Department director, Noorhanis Noordin, took a walk around the properties at Penang Road and Keng Kwee Street.
They discovered that most of the units were hawker food outlets and tourism-related retail stores. A few are vacant or believed to be used as workers’ quarters and are visibly in need of restoration.
Penang Road Famous TeoChew Chendul chief executive officer Tan Chong Kim said his business had been a tenant of the Hong Kong owners since his father founded the first cendol stall in 1936 at the Keng Kwee Street.
He characterised them as “friendly, fair and responsible”.
“They raised the rent annually by small increments of RM10 or RM20 a month, and they maintained the properties for us,” he added.