CMT exploring how to unlock Funan's space value

CapitaLand Mall Trust (CMT) may finally be closer to unlocking the value of its additional gross floor area at Funan DigitaLife Mall after years of speculation on the space.

In a Singapore Exchange filing on Wednesday evening, the trust's manager said it is "exploring its options" with regard to the mall.

The options include disposing of or redeveloping the centre, it added.

The mall received provisional permission in 2007 to build a nine-storey commercial block of mostly offices to maximise unutilised GFA. These plans were put on the back burner due to the global financial crisis and weak sentiment.

According to last year's URA Masterplan, the plot ratio for Funan is 7, but currently it is built only up to about 4.3, noted Cushman & Wakefield research director Christine Li.

The extra 380,000 sq ft or so of unused GFA would likely be used for offices, said Mr Desmond Sim, CBRE head of research for Singapore and South-east Asia.

"There is a maximum threshold to how many levels of retail space make sense. Upwards of four floors, the rent one can command would be comparable to office rents."

Redevelopment is also an option as the mall's design may be inefficient for modern retail requirements, said Chestertons managing director Donald Han. "For example, as an IT mall, you have many goods lifts, which is not so effective in an age where everyone uses smartphones and desktops are no longer in demand... The basement area, usually dense in pedestrian footfall, has not been well-utilised as well, as it is mainly used as a carpark."

Funan's value was stated at $361 million as at Dec 31. It appears to have been performing worse than CMT's other assets. Its annual report last year showed it had the second-lowest rental reversion across all malls in the portfolio.

Its occupancy rate dipped from 100 per cent in 2012 to 97.9 per cent last year, while its net property income fell from $22.1 million in 2013 to $21.7 million last year.

Possible suitors could come from private equity, said Mr Han. CLSA Capital Partners, for example, bought retail and office development PoMo in 2011, later selling it to a joint venture between BS Capital and Enviro-Hub Holdings in 2013.

"There is a lot of private equity money that is hungry for retail assets, and there are not many of such assets with redevelopment potential in the central area," he said.

Rennie Whang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 17, 2015, with the headline 'CMT exploring how to unlock Funan's space value'. Subscribe