Thailand’s richest man is building Bangkok’s tallest skyscraper

Thailand’s richest man is building Bangkok’s tallest skyscraper

Standing at 318 metres, the Magnolias Waterfront Residences at IconSiam is Thailand's tallest building. (Photo by Patipat Janthong)
Standing at 318 metres, the Magnolias Waterfront Residences at IconSiam is Thailand's tallest building. (Photo by Patipat Janthong)

Thailand’s richest man wants to set another record.

Billionaire Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi, via his recently listed property unit Asset World Corp, has his sights on building the nation’s tallest skyscraper.

Details are scant -- no official height has been set and completion isn’t expected until 2025 -- but the tower, at the centre of another $948 million project on the banks of Bangkok’s Chao Phraya river, is emblematic of Asset World’s aggressive growth strategy.

“It embodies what our company aims to do -- set new trends and lift the benchmark,” said Asset World’s Chief Executive Officer and Charoen’s daughter, Wallapa Traisorat. The skyscraper will be a “new landmark” and draw more visitors to Thailand, she said.

Its planned construction, however, comes at a difficult time for the Southeast Asian nation’s property and tourism markets. Bangkok is facing an apartment glut, with 100,000 empty units and more to come. And Chinese investors, who for years have propped up the real estate sector, are staying away because of the travel curbs and economic havoc caused by the coronavirus.

Foreigners are set to account for as little as 10% of apartment purchases in 2020, down from a fifth two years ago, consultancy Agency for Real Estate Affairs estimates.

Tourism in Thailand, meanwhile, which comprises around 20% of gross domestic product, is also taking a hit because of the outbreak. Receipts tumbled 3.6% in January from a year earlier to 188.8 billion baht, hurt by a 10% slide in outlays from Chinese visitors, data released earlier this week showed.

Ms Wallapa isn’t perturbed, maintaining the impact will be short term. Bangkok was named the world’s most-visited city in 2018 for a fourth consecutive year, ahead of Paris, London, Dubai and Singapore, according to a 2019 Mastercard Inc ranking.

“There will be growth this year,” she said, declining to specify any targets for the company. “The tourism industry has always managed to bounce back.”

Asset World is partnering with Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, the firm behind the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. The skyscraper will surpass Thailand’s current record, the Magnolias Waterfront Residences at IconSiam, which stands at 318 metres and which was completed in 2018.

To be built adjacent to the company’s flagship riverside mall, Asiatique, the tower will house hotels, shops and offices. Its energy-saving design will mean there’s the possibility of harnessing wind power, Wallapa said.

Asset World is separately in talks with three hotel chains for possible partnerships and already works with brands including Marriott and Hilton, she said.

The group has a number of other ambitious plans in the wings, too. It aims to build Thailand’s biggest convention hotel by the beach in Pattaya on Thailand’s east coast and is set to become the nation’s largest hotel owner by 2025 with more than 4,000 rooms in the pipeline. The group added $3 billion to Mr Charoen’s fortune when it listed in Bangkok in October.

The development of the as-yet-unnamed skyscraper comes at a time Bangkok’s riverfront is experiencing a renaissance. Several luxury hotels have upped the ante, with a Four Seasons opening along the waterway and the venerable Mandarin Oriental nearing completion of its renovation.

Ms Wallapa doesn’t have any plans to stop either.

“We have the debt capacity to add more projects,” she said. “We focus on scale. We’ll keep expanding.”

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