China property

From furniture store to co-working space: the transformation of a Beijing shopping centre

The Cofco Plaza has seen its value rise and rental income more than quadruple after its conversion

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 January, 2018, 7:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 January, 2018, 7:00am

For those familiar with Beijing’s recent history, the Cofco Plaza on Jianguomennei Avenue occupies an important place on the city’s cultural map.

Home to one of the earliest Starbucks in China – which is still in operation – it was a favourite haunt of one of China’s internet pioneers, Charles Zhang, the founder and chairman of Sohu Inc, giving it a prominent place in the rise of China’s internet industry.

Eighteen years on, one part of the plaza that used to be a luxury furniture retail areahas been overhauled, and once again finds itself at the forefront of technology. The renamed Section-C now has 36,000 square metres of office space, including 10,000 square metres of co-working space built from scratch and managed in-house and which comes with a cafeteria area called Cofco Life.

It also has its own digital management system, called COFFICE, that allows staff to access all its facilities from just one app.

“We invested more money but we get higher rent, not only for Section-C, but also for the A and B sections”, said the plaza’s general manager, Sun Tianli, adding that 15 per cent of the space is for public use, compared with 8 to 14 per cent in a typical office development.

“We have hosted about 200 visiting delegations from other companies, and what interested them most was the COFFICE system,” he said.

The app can be used to book co-working spaces or conference rooms, or to pay for food and drink in the cafeteria or other restaurants in the building, where users are entitled to discounts. The app can even be used to book meditation, spa or gym sessions, while the building’s managers can use it to monitor problems and gather data on usage patterns.

Co-working spaces taking China by storm

Sun said around 20,000 people had downloaded the app, while only 4,200 actually worked in the building, suggesting it was popular with people from other buildings nearby.

The revamp has meant that the office area is already generating four times as much rental income as it did when it was a furniture retail space, and the value of the building has increased by about 1 billion yuan (US$15 million), Sun said. The revamp costs are expected to be recouped within five years.

Sun said the building’s owner, Hong Kong-based Joy City Property – Cofco’s property arm, was willing to invest more to improve the quality of the building, as it shifts its strategy from being just a developer to becoming an asset manager.