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A star in the making: Alan Koh

Alan Koh CEO of Alpine Return

Alan Koh believes that success is not just about vision, but also about the ability to see an idea through from conceptualisation to implementation. It is this philosophy that guides him in his role as CEO of one of Malaysia’s most promising property developers, Alpine Return.

Established as a joint venture between well-known developers Symphony Life and United Malayan Land in 2007, Alpine Return hit the ground running, developing the 1.5-hectare, RM3 billion Star Development mixed-use site in the Kuala Lumpur City Centre (KLCC).

“I joined the development as a greenfield project, from the creation of the initial concept, to the naming, designing and planning of Star Development,” Alan recalls. “It’s a special project for me, and it has been evolving from day one in all areas of building facade, public spaces and interior design to become one of the stand-out developments in Kuala Lumpur.”

Alan Koh CEO of Alpine Return
Alan Koh, CEO of Alpine Return

With more than 30 years’ experience in the real estate industry, Alan first got his feet wet in a Japanese real estate agency in Hawaii. Eager to learn and expand his portfolio, he soon swapped out the slow Hawaiian market and returned to Asia, where the property sector was booming.

Here, he rubbed shoulders with some of the region’s largest real estate firms across commercial and residential investment, asset management, real estate funds, and property development.

“To widen my real estate experience, in 1997, I joined one of Asia’s largest multinational corporations, CapitaLand Singapore. Over the next 10 years, as Senior Vice President, I was responsible for asset management, investment, divestment and development of commercial offices, retail, industrial, hospital and high-end residential developments,” Alan explains.

“The S$5 billion commercial asset portfolio I managed in Singapore, Malaysia and China included Capital Tower, Samsung Hub, Bugis Junction, Raffles Hospital, Temasek Tower, Chevron Tower, Hitachi Tower, Menara Citibank and Huiteng Metropolis.”

“The demand for serviced apartments in Kuala Lumpur is rising with the number of local and foreign corporate travellers looking to stay for extended periods.”

Alan’s journey with Alpine Return started in 2007, while he was working for CapitaLand, which at the time owned shares in the joint venture. In 2008, he moved on to work with Pacific Star Group as its Senior Vice President, where he was responsible for investments throughout Asia, mainly in China, India and Malaysia. Just a year later, he was headhunted by big league developer SP Setia.

“I returned to Malaysia again and worked there for three years as Head of Investments and Development for KL Eco City, an RM7 billion mixed integrated development comprising commercial office buildings, retail, strata offices and residential apartments.”

Moving up

With an extensive portfolio of prominent developments across North-East Asia and a track record in innovation and leadership, it’s unsurprising that Alan was again headhunted by United Malayan Land in 2013 to lead the Star Development project. “Once known as Mayang Land, I renamed the project Star Residences to reflect its location in Malaysia’s very own Star Walk of Fame on iconic Star Boulevard,” he notes.

Alan Koh CEO of Alpine Return

With its strategic location, Star Residences boasts more than 9,000 square metres of lifestyle amenities, redefining urban progression and setting the benchmark for cosmopolitan urban living in the heart of Kuala Lumpur.

Residential Tower One launched in November 2013, with its 557 units quickly snapped up by local and international investors, while Residential Tower Two was launched in 2016, boasting 482 units and an average built-up size of 70 square metres. Both towers have now achieved 100% sales.

Star Residences Tower Three, known as Ascott Star KLCC, was launched in July 2017, jointly with Singapore-basedThe Ascott. The 58-storey building offers five-star luxury and world-class hospitality services, with a gross development value of RM1 billion.

A member of CapitaLand, The Ascott is a leading international serviced residence owner-operator, with more than 350 properties in 100 cities, spanning 25 countries across the US, Asia–Pacific, Europe and the Middle East.

Alpine Return’s partnership with The Ascott presents a wealth of value-added privileges that complement the cosmopolitan urban lifestyle of Star Residences.

Given the rapid take-up of Towers One and Two and the high degree of interest from overseas investors, Alan expects Ascott Star KLCC to also do well. “The demand for serviced apartments in Kuala Lumpur is rising, with more local and foreign corporate travellers looking to stay for extended periods,” Alan notes.

“We believe that the Ascott brand, which has more than 43,000 rooms worldwide, will not only elevate Star Residences to a five-star development, but also increase the capital value of the entire Star Development.”

Award-winning development

Alpine Return’s Star Development won awards at the Asia–Pacific Property Awards 2017 and the BrandLaureate Awards 2018:

  1. Star Residences: Five-Star Best Apartment Malaysia
  2. Star Development: Five-Star Best Mixed-Use Architecture Malaysia
  3. Star Development: Award Winner Mixed-Use Development Malaysia
  4. The BrandLaureate BESTBRANDS Award Signature Brand Property Luxury Condominium

Ascott Star KLCC comprises 471 fully fitted units ranging from 65 square metres for a one-bedroom unit, to 275 square metres for a four-bedroom unit, with prices starting at RM1.6 million. The property boasts a roof-top sky park with panoramic city views overlooking the iconic Petronas Twin Towers, and facilities including a 25-metre infinity pool, gymnasium, sky lounge, and sky bar and restaurant. If all goes to plan, Alan expects the project to be ready by July 2021.

In contrast to the dense surrounding developments, the Star’s tower blocks are arranged in a way that ensures the best unobstructed views from the residential units while optimising the space between each tower for privacy and openness. The towers are located at the three points of a triangular block, proving ample air circulation between buildings and ensuring the best views over KLCC.

When Star Residences first launched, it saw a 50/50 split between local and foreign buyers. According to Alan, foreign investors now make up 60% of owners. “Malaysia is one of the most affordable countries to buy property, especially when compared with other countries in the region like Singapore, Hong Kong, Korea and China,” he notes. “However, besides the Petronas Twin Towers and Aquaria KLCC, the country lacks any attractive tourist landmarks, especially in the city – Star Development has changed this.”

From concept to reality

Alan believes that the heart and soul of any development is its design. “It’s also the most challenging part – because it must differentiate your product from other competitors in the market. To achieve this, I keep an open mind and visit as many projects of interest around the world as I can,” he notes.

Alan Koh CEO of Alpine Return

“This type of hands-on research is essential in order to thoroughly understand the project you’re about to undertake and it will ultimately determine the success or failure in the uptake of your development. Doing a comprehensive financial feasibility study is also important, because you must take into consideration all development costs to determine your profit margin.”

Alan explains that Star Development was inspired by Taiwan’s W Hotel. “I was invited to dine at one of its Chinese restaurants, and as soon as I stepped inside, I immediately fell in love with it. It had a sexy, artistic and energetic feel,” he recalls. Around the world, W Hotels are known to emphasise the interplay of colour, flamboyance and youthful energy, which extends all the way from the grand entrance to the five-star hotel lobby, and into every guest amenity.

“When I speak with buyers, they recognise that there’s a story behind Star Residences.”

To enhance his vision, Alan visited other W Hotels in Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Beijing and Bangkok, taking in every aspect of the buildings. “This research formed part of my 40-page design concept framework for Star Development. Unit sizing and space utilisation are also important factors of the planning process, as each unit must be both comfortable and functional. I took measurements using my laser gun at hotels and condominiums I stayed in,” Alan admits. “The unit size also determines the value of the units you are selling. For example, 700 square feet at RM1,000 per square foot equals RM700,000 – so it helps you to understand what the market can afford.”

Five-star status

Alan is a strong believer that branding will deliver better success to the business. Through his unique ‘star’ branding strategy, he has been able to overcome challenges in positioning Star Residences as a must-have luxury condominium among property owners in Malaysia. This is no easy feat, considering the entire KLCC area is filled with other developments, due to its sought-after location.

To achieve maximum brand exposure and authenticity, Alan ensured that the brand contained all the elements of star appeal. “The term ‘star’ is also associated with celebrities. When I first looked at this development, I noticed it had a long 200-metre frontage, so I decided to create a Malaysian tourist landmark – the Star Walk of Fame,” he says proudly. “Akin to Los Angeles’ Hollywood Walk of Fame and Hong Kong’s Avenue of Stars, this first-of-its-kind Malaysian tourist hotspot will be right in the middle of KLCC and within walking distance of the famous Petronas Twin Towers.”

Retail activities and the Star Walk of Fame are strategically located on the main road of the site to boost the public urban landscape experience and environment, while landscaped courtyards enhance commercial activities and link various components of the development.

“Along Star Boulevard, we’ll line up the palm prints of around 36 local and international celebrities, especially those from Asia. We also plan to engage famous artists to create celebrity sculptures to make the Star Walk of Fame as ‘Instagrammable’ as possible,” he notes. Alan hopes to attract the likes of Will Smith, Madonna, Beyoncé, Elton John, David Beckham, Jackie Chan and Chow Yuen Fatt to endorse the Walk of Fame with their palm prints.

Star Development is a mixed development comprising Star Residences – a 57-storey tower and two 58-storey towers – including the Ascott Star KLCC Kuala Lumpur and Star Boulevard, which comprises five blocks of six-storey units for retail, food, beverages and entertainment.

Star Boulevard will not only be Malaysia’s latest hotspot, but will also sit adjacent to Star Development’s Signature Food and Beverage and Entertainment Hub, which will house culinary delights from all corners of the globe, including French, Chinese, Western, Asian Fusion and Middle Eastern.

Expected to be completed by the end of this year, it will also feature Malaysia’s first Michelin-starred restaurant. “When they’re complete, the Star Walk of Fame, and our food, beverage and entertainment hub will be must-visit locations for both locals and tourists, enhancing the rental and capital value of the entire Star Development,” Alan enthuses.

When it comes to branding and marketing, Alan believes the development’s recognisable name and symbolic logo give it a distinct advantage. “Our star logo is meaningful and purposeful – it’s related to our Walk of Fame, to the lucky star and the Michelin star. For good luck and good feng shui, I developed the logo using 65 bold and colourful circles and a five-leaf clover symbol in the heart of the star,” he explains.

“I chose Fendi yellow for our Ascott Star tower because I wanted a bold colour that’s closely related to the gold star logo. When yellow (huang) and gold (jin) are put together, they signify to investors, particularly Chinese investors, that they’re buying a piece of gold (huang jin),” Alan notes.

“We’re likely the first developer to get our star logo personalised and etched on our tap fittings – it’s all about that ‘wow’ factor. And when I speak with buyers, they recognise that there’s a story behind Star Residences. They’re more likely to buy because they can sense the meaning and history of the brand.” The star theme is evident throughout each residential tower, from the colourful oil paintings of celebrities in the lobbies to the three-storey high abstract mosaic mural wall visible from all three towers.


The Star Kinetic Facade

Alan is particularly proud of Star Residences’ eye-catching exterior, similar to that seen on the striking KLCC Twin Towers. Made from thousands of aluminium Star logos, this unique glittering podium facade moves with the wind like a cloud. An abstract and artistic representation of the star symbol, the facade is a fashionable and contemporary representation of the hotel’s trendy, celebrity status.

Standing out from the crowd

Alan believes Malaysia’s Star Walk of Fame is a perfect symbol of what Alpine Return hopes to achieve with the Star Development project. “Creating a distinctive five-star brand that will stand out among other luxury competitors is not an easy task. We’ve enhanced our brand through the Star Walk of Fame and by engaging world famous brand ambassadors and partners,” Alan explains. “We have engaged Jimmy Choo as a brand ambassador for Star Development, and he’s the first celebrity to make a palm print for the Star Walk of Fame.”

“Malaysia is one of the most affordable countries in which to buy property compared with other countries in the region.”

To further set the development apart from its competitors, Alan has ensured that each residential tower offers a comprehensive array of premium lifestyle facilities. Three sky parks open up to panoramic views of KLCC where residents can enjoy a range of activities, from hosting private parties to relaxing in their hydro massage pool.

These parks offer a five-star gourmet kitchen, sky bar and party lawn, spa pool, steam bath, 465-square-metre gym, and a heated hydro massage pool. Looking ahead to the next 12 to 18 months, Alan is focused on achieving the highest quality finishing throughout the Star Development.

“Everything has to be perfect, down to the finest detail – from the walls to the doors, to the kitchen cabinets and wardrobes; and from the remarkable Star kinetic facade to the interior design of all common areas and sky parks,” he notes. “Our greatest challenge is to fill the outstanding 12,000 square metres of retail space and get our tenant sales for Ascott Star KLCC up to 70%–80% by the end of this year.”

Partner Snapshot

Other projects by Symphony Life:

  • Tijani 2 North at Bukit Tunku
  • Arata at Bukit Tunku
  • Surin at Tanjung Bungah
  • Tower 28 at Taman Tasik Prima
  • 6 Ceylon luxury condominium at Jalan Bukit Ceylon

Other projects by UM Land:

  • Seri Bukit Ceylon at Jalan Bukit Ceylon
  • Suasana Sentral Loft at KL Sentral
  • Suasana Bangsar in Jalan Bangsar
  • Suasana Bukit Ceylon at Jalan Bukit Ceylon
  • Somerset Puteri Harbour at Nusajaya

Other projects by Samsung C&T:

  • Petronas Twin Towers in Malaysia
  • Burj Khalifa in Dubai – tallest skyscraper in the world
  • Taipei 101 in Taiwan – tallest green building in the world
  • Incheon Bridge – Korea’s longest cable-stayed bridge
  • Qurayyah IPP – largest combined cycle gas-fired power plant in the world
  • Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, UAE

Powerful partners in place

To ensure on-time delivery and strengthen the perception of Star Development as a world-class mixed-use property, Alpine Return has aligned itself with a handful of high-class influential partners, each a leader in its respective field. “We partnered with The Ascott for our third tower and engaged five-star developer Samsung C&T Engineering and Construction Group as our main contractor on Star Development,” Alan notes.

“The construction giant is best known for the construction of the world’s tallest buildings, including the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai and now Merdeka PNB 118 (formerly KL118 or Warisan Merdeka), which will be Malaysia’s tallest building.”

Alan explains that Samsung’s status as a renowned developer in Korea presented the opportunity to reach new markets. “People in Japan and Korea recognise the Samsung name and associate it with quality, so they’re more likely to buy,” he remarks.

“Samsung also places great emphasis on safety and social responsibility across all of its developments, so it’s also responsible for the installation of security systems throughout Star Development. Already, our teams are working very well together.”

In his 30 years in the property sector, the most important lesson Alan has learned is that whatever you do, you must do it with passion. “That’s the only way everything will come together positively. You must be creative and you must constantly change your mindset – don’t always think the same way,” he notes.

“I also learned to take the long-term view, because success doesn’t happen overnight: it’s built on detailed, long-term planning. Dream big, but take action on your dreams; otherwise, it’s nothing but an empty vision. Most importantly, you must do something that lets you stand out from the crowd. There’s no point in constantly trying to please – you need to be yourself. If you stay focused on your dream, success will follow.

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