Singapore's billionaire Kwee family sets sights on China property deals

Singapore landlord also eyeing Europe, and has stake in 72-floor Manhattan residential tower


One of Singapore's biggest landlords, the billionaire Kwee family, hopes to expand its portfolio into China and Europe after it announced its involvement in a 72-storey residential tower adjacent to the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan.

The tower has been planned since 2007. Photo: Bloomberg
Pontiac Land Group plans to invest US$200 million in the project, said Michael Su, chief executive officer. Pontiac will team up with Goldman Sachs and Houston-based property firm Hines, existing partners for the development.

"We are Singapore-centric and our New York city investment is a significant step outside our comfort zone," Su said.

"The US is a big market and we would like to stay. If opportunities present themselves in China and Europe, we will not rule out these markets."

The tower in Manhattan has been planned since 2007, when Hines selected Paris-based architect Jean Nouvel. The Pritzker Architecture Prize winner is known for such wildly diverse projects as the muscular Guthrie Theatre in the US city of Minneapolis and the exotically louvred Arab World Institute in Paris.

Hines and Goldman Sachs Real Estate Principal Investment Area acquired the 18,000 sq ft site for US$125 million from the museum in 2007, according to Pontiac Land.

The building would reach 320 metres, about the height of the Chrysler Building, on a 17,000 sq ft lot on 53rd Street near Sixth Avenue, according to Hines. It would include 145 luxury condominiums, and 60,000 sq ft on the second to fifth floors for the museum to expand its galleries.

earlier reported Pontiac Land's investment in the project and said discussions between the Kwee family and the banks began last year.

The tower's revival comes amid a high-rise construction boom in midtown Manhattan as developers seek to take advantage of demand for luxury condominiums. It is four blocks from Extell Development's One57 and developer Harry Macklowe and CIM Group's 432 Park Avenue, which are under construction and have set records with pending purchases of more than US$90 million each.

Privately held Pontiac Land has built hotels including the Ritz-Carlton Millenia and the Conrad Centennial in Singapore and luxury residential condominiums in the city state's prime areas. Its portfolio of properties includes architectural icons by Pritzker Architecture Prize laureates Norman Foster, Richard Meier, Philip Johnson, John Burgee and Kevin Roche.

Singaporean developers are expanding overseas as the government measures to curb record residential prices slow demand at home. OUE, based in the city state, agreed to buy US Bank Tower in Los Angeles, California's tallest building, for US$367.5 million in March.

"The motivation for Asian buyers to seek investments in the US and western Europe is to diversify risk from their domestic markets," said Priyaranjan Kumar, the Singapore-based regional director of capital markets at Cushman & Wakefield. Cushman estimates more than US$50 billion of equity from Asia will be invested in Europe and North America by 2020, he said.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Billionaire Kwee family sets sights on China deals