Interview with CEO, Azmar Talib

TRX//MyCity
Project Updates
Interview with CEO, Azmar Talib
January 6, 2020
Construction of HSBC and Affin headquarters in progress

Construction of HSBC and Affin headquarters in progress

Ariel view rendering of TRX

Ariel view rendering of TRX

Spread over 28 hectares, Tun Razak Exchange is poised to become Malaysia’s international financial district and Kuala Lumpur’s new commercial business district, says TRX City Chief Executive Officer Dato’ Azmar Talib.

 

Tell us briefly what Tun Razak Exchange (TRX) is.

The TRX project is a 70-acre (28-hectare) master-planned development in KL city centre, envisioned to be a dedicated international financial centre. It was conceptualised to enable KL as a financial hub, by creating an ecosystem supporting a seamless business environment for financial services firms, multinational companies and ancillary businesses.

We are now in phase one of the development. Two office towers are operational, the first being Prudential Building, housing their new Malaysian headquarters. The second building, Exchange 106 – Southeast Asia’s tallest tower – is currently awaiting its first tenant to move in. By the end of next year, they will be joined by HSBC and Affin Bank.

Apart from commercial, retail, hotel and residential development, TRX will also have a unique public realm and a cultural centre as well as other public facilities uncommon to city development.

We designed TRX to be a lifestyle destination that will be alive beyond office hours. TRX is jointly developing the lifestyle quarter with an international property and construction giant, Lendlease, which will have a four-storey retail mall and a 10 acre (four-hectare) rooftop park, unlike anything you have seen before.

 

Billed as Malaysia’s first international financial district and Kuala Lumpur’s new central business district (CBD), how will TRX complement the Golden Triangle area first and foremost, and the Greater Kuala Lumpur area?

TRX will expand KL’s Golden Triangle, shaping a new CBD. As a government-backed project, we’re able to do things that surpass what a typical developer is willing to commit to, as we can look beyond the bottom line.

So we’re able to create a city-changing project, not just in terms of reorienting KL’s business centre but also in influencing the habits of KL’s residents. We aspire to take KL to another level like what KLCC did 20 years ago. We invested heavily in infrastructure to enhance the hub’s level of service, making it relevant and able to stand a longer test of time.

TRX is putting in about RM3 billion (USD716 million) for the infrastructure, including to upgrade and construct new roads and pedestrian links coming into and going out of the district. We will have direct connections to SMART and MEX highways that will cut travel time to the airport to 45 minutes. We are also working with DBKL to upgrade the roads near TRX, like the streetscape along Jalan Gading that will link TRX to Bukit Bintang, and the traffic dispersal improvement of Jalan Tun Razak.

Right now, the KLCC and Bukit Bintang area anchor the existing CBD, but the Golden Triangle has yet to reach its full potential as one district. We believe with the enhanced connectivity and ease in congestion, both by MRT and new roads, the current face of the Golden Triangle will change. TRX is in the centre of this evolution – it has seamless road connectivity and the biggest MRT interchange in the city that will feed into the pedestrian links to the most vibrant area in Kuala Lumpur.

 

Beyond being an international financial district, TRX also has a big focus on leisure and lifestyle. Could you please describe the concept of the retail aspect of TRX?

We are very excited to bring the new retail concept here, which will be a game changer – a unique concept of a “park in a mall and a mall in a park”. This place will be the new destination for families, for tourists, for KL’s residents. We believe it will even be a new benchmark for international standards.

The district itself is designed to create an active and interesting lifestyle where people will live, work, shop and play in a well-articulated, safe, conducive and vibrant environment. It does not stop there; the district will have its own district management to ensure the level of service, including maintenance work, security and other daily operations, meets the expected standards of an international financial district.

We are very accessible as both MRT lines will intersect at TRX, and the place has something for everybody – the best dining options, some in alfresco settings facing the park, and new-to-market brands for those who love shopping. There will also be a hotel and residential towers adjoining the retail mall.

The retail component, The Exchange TRX, has a 2.5 million square feet (250,000 square metre) gross floor area and will be linked to other major shopping points in the CBD.

Imagine a dedicated, vibrant pedestrian walkway that connects TRX to Pavilion and the rest of Bukit Bintang, and all the way to KLCC – this can really boost KL’s profile as a major international shopping destination.

 

Urban green spaces have become an important part of modern cities. What can we expect from TRX in this area? Will green spaces and parks feature in TRX?

Almost a quarter of TRX will be green spaces. Apart from the rooftop park, we also have four public plazas. Our green public realm serves as a pedestrian network, connecting one side of the district to the other, and we emphasise outdoor comfort in a safe and secure environment. Here, pedestrians are prioritised, which is why you will see minimal vehicles at surface level.

The park will be the centre of this community, where we can hold concerts and cultural events. We have playgrounds, picnic spots, sports facilities as well as amenities for private and corporate activities. If you are working in TRX, during your lunch break, for instance, you can come down to relax in our gardens and forest trails.

See, when we designed TRX, we designed it for tomorrow’s living. Sustainability features are built-in at the masterplan level. For example, we have an on-site water treatment and recycling plant. More than 80 per cent of the water used in TRX will be recycled, so potable water demand can be cut in half.

 

What about connectivity, specifically public transportation into and out of the district in view of TRX’s location in a massively congested area during rush hour?

Yes, KL’s traffic is legendary, and for TRX to be a successful and effective business centre, we have to be seamlessly connected, not just physically but also in terms of our digital infrastructure.

Having an MRT interchange on-site helps us become a new nexus, truly KL’s new heart; you can travel from any last point of the MRT 1 and MRT 2 and reach TRX within 45 minutes, which is quite fantastic. And on top of direct connection to MEX and SMART, we will have direct links to the upcoming Setiawangsa Pantai Expressway, which will connect us to 12 existing highways.

If you come to the site right now, you will see major infrastructure works in progress, and this includes upgrading and widening roads that will link TRX to Jalan Tun Razak and Jalan Sultan Ismail, direct links that will take vehicles straight into the district, bypassing the existing traffic outside.

In fact, we have built eight kilometres of the road – underground tunnels, at grade level as well as elevated roads in the northern site of TRX.

As for our digital backbone, TRX’s tenants are the most sophisticated users, so we need to ensure that it is scalable to meet future demands and provides a certain level of comfort for the financial institutions. At the same time, we are adopting smart city technologies to cater to a world-class building management system and smart district management that regulates waste, traffic and parking, as well as urban safety monitoring systems.

 

What is unique about having a residential address at TRX?

Well for one, you will have the best address in Kuala Lumpur! Quite simply, you will be living in the top-of-the-line homes, in the very heart of KL, but you will be far from being walled in. You will have wide, lush greeneries at your doorstep, you have peerless connectivity to other parts of KL, you are part of a social and lifestyle hub, and because TRX is designed to be porous and integrated into its neighbourhood, you can just walk over to Imbi and Bukit Bintang.

Currently, we have two ongoing residential projects: TRX Residences, developed by TRX and Lendlease, and Core Residence @ TRX by CORE Precious Development, a JV company between China Communications Construction Group (CCCG) and Malaysia’s WCT Holdings Berhad.

 

How has the response been to the project so far?

As the master developer of this project, we have faced our share of challenges, but we have been steadfast in the value we bring to the market. In terms of commercialisation, we moved very fast and hit critical mass, both in terms of quantity and quality, earlier than expected. TRX is now KL’s property value benchmark. The feather in our cap was certainly the world-class investors that chose us – global institutions like HSBC, which is investing some RM1 billion (USD239 million) for their new Malaysian HQ in TRX.

We are seeing public perception evolving; people are more positive now that they’re able to see for themselves how the district is taking shape. This stability is also bolstered by strong government support.

 

What are your thoughts about the supply and demand of office and residential space in Kuala Lumpur, specifically high-end residential properties such as those offered by TRX?

We cannot really comment on what others are bringing into the market. For us though, TRX has always been more than just a property development; it is a very important economic enabler for KL and Malaysia. We are focused on the project vision to create a dedicated financial district that can attract both international and local financial and business players to stimulate economic growth, and ultimately support the development of Malaysia’s financial industry.

At this point, we are concentrating on delivering our infrastructure to support the plot developers that makeup about 70 per cent of TRX, and we are not in a hurry to sell or develop our remaining plots. All buildings in the district, other than Exchange 106, are either owner-occupied or built specifically for long-term tenants. We need to stress here that we do not do speculative development.

 

You have been with the project almost from the start. How has your journey been so far?

It has been interesting and challenging in equal measures. I have been in the industry for over 30 years and seen a lot of things, but this project is singular – there is nothing quite like it. I am very proud of TRX’s achievements and thankful for the opportunity to lead the project.

I’m proud of my team. We have a relatively flat structure, with mostly young local talents who have had to sprint the marathon from the start. They have evolved and been able to persevere and continue to protect and create good value for the investors and our single shareholder, the Government and ultimately, the people of Malaysia.

My hope is that TRX will one day be able to develop intellectual property copyright that will spur Malaysia further.

 

*Special Feature In Profile interview in Going Places Magazine for December 2019 issue.

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