Looming Over

Businessmen and political heavyweights Liu Chak Wan, Chan Meng Kam, and Cheong Lok Tin are among a number of names linked to the potential high-rise projects along Avenida do Dr. Rodrigo Rodrigues, which critics say will put the view of the Guia Lighthouse in danger

In response to enquiries by legislators, and the mounting public pressure last month about a controversial high-rise residential project that might block the views of the Guia Lighthouse, one of the world heritage sites in the city, Raimundo Arrais do Rosário bluntly said that their hands are tied. 

“I think everyone knows — and it is not a secret that — the Macau developers have put huge pressure on the government,” the Secretary for Transport and Public Works said in a Legislative Assembly plenary session, adding that developers construct their projects as tall as the laws and rules allow, the official noted. “This has been a characteristic of Macau; Macau has been like this,” he added.

Taken on the perspective of Mr. Raimundo, the pressure piled on the government might even be bigger concerning the projects along Avenida do Dr. Rodrigo Rodrigues in the southern foothills of Guia Hill. A look through the background of those land parcels by Macau Business, finds a number of heavyweights in local political and business circles involved in the projects.

The planned high-rise residential project that has come under the spotlight in recent weeks is located at No.465-513 Avenida do Dr. Rodrigo Rodrigues, or better known as the NAPE Zone No.134. The land owner has filed an application to the government for an urban conditions plan, a must-have document here, to pave the way for the construction of the project if green lighted. 

In accordance with the city’s urban planning laws, any proposed Urban Conditions Plan of a land parcel must undergo a consultation exercise and be discussed by the Urban Planning Committee — a government appointed advisory body on the matter — for any updates and amendments, before being officially issued by the Land, Public Works and Transport Bureau (DSSOPT). The consultation for the proposed urban conditions plan of the NAPE No.134 project was concluded last month, and it now awaits deliberation by the Urban Planning Committee.

According to the proposed plan, the project located on the 7,802-square-metre land plot is zoned for residential development, and its maximum height is capped at 90 metres tall, in accordance with the height limits for the area prescribed in the Chief Executive’s Order No. 83/2008. However, before the discussion of the Urban Planning Committee, numerous architects, civil associations and residents have already voiced their concerns over the project.

The Concern Group for the Protection of the Guia Lighthouse submitted an urgent appeal last month to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), which selects the world heritage sites, requesting assistance from the international body to safeguard the views of the lighthouse. The local non-governmental group, set up by residents in the vicinity of the lighthouse in the 2000’s, has been critical of high-rise projects in the areas over the years, and noted in its latest appeal to UNESCO, “Height restriction of 90 meters for buildings to be built along the Avenida do Dr. Rodrigo Rodrigues is inadequate to protect the visual integrity and the principal sight-lines of the Guia Lighthouse.”

Liu’s empire

According to the latest documents from the property and company registries here, the NAPE Zone No.134 is held by New Ten On Investments Limited, which is majorly controlled by prominent businessman Liu Chak Wan. Mr. Liu is a former member of the SAR’s Executive Council, an advisory body to the Chief Executive, between 1999 and 2019, and an incumbent member of the Standing Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), the top political advisory body in Mainland China. He holds a 60-percent stake in the firm, while the remaining shares are controlled by two British Virgin Islands based companies Total Perfect Enterprise Limited and Star Galaxy Investments Limited. 

The political heavyweight, whose business empire stretches from real estate and transportation to technology and finance, once said in a media interview in 2016 that his firm bought NAPE Zone No.134 in 2004, and was approved by the government two years later to develop a 135-metre tall tower on the site. But the Chief Executive’s Order No. 83/2008, coming into force in 2008 to protect the views of the world heritage sites here, capped the height of the projects along Avenida do Dr. Rodrigo Rodrigues at 90 metres tall, he noted at the time.

The businessman noted four years ago that the government had pledged it would make compensations for the projects affected by the No. 83/2008 dispatch, and he estimated at the time the loss incurred by the height cap so far and the relevant delay totalled MOP1.6 billion. There has not been any news concerning the latest development of the NAPE No.134 project, until its recent application for the urban conditions plan.

Liaison Office and dispatch

The height for development along Avenida do Dr. Rodrigo Rodrigues was originally capped at between 20.5 metres and 90 metres tall, but the authorities loosened the height cap in 2006 to between 90 and 99.9 metres tall, with the maximum height at the NAPE Zone No.134 even reaching 135 metres tall. 

This move has immediately been lambasted by almost all sides of the community, including residents in the relevant districts, professionals and civil associations, due to the potential towers blocking the views of the Guia Lighthouse. In face of huge public pressure, as well as those from developers of the opposite site, the government came up with the No. 83/2008 dispatch in 2008 that slightly lowered the height cap in the district.

While the NAPE No.134 project has been idle for years, two nearby high-rise buildings along Avenida do Dr. Rodrigo Rodrigues have already or have almost been completed. The first tower completed on the southern foothills of Guia Hill is the headquarters building of the Central Government’s Liaison Office. The tower, located at No. 603 Avenida do Dr. Rodrigo Rodrigues on NAPE Zone No.136, had originally been designed to be 99.9 metres tall. It was later scaled down to 88 metres when it opened in 2010 amid public pressure and the height cap dispatch. However, critics have noted the Liaison Office building has set an example in terms of project height for others in the area to follow.

Veteran property developer

Next to the Central Government’s Liaison Office is a yet to be named high-end residential project on NAPE Zone No.135 at No.527-553 Avenida do Dr. Rodrigo Rodrigues. The 3,384-square metre land plot is owned and developed by Sunnyville Property Development Company Limited, which is linked to seasoned entrepreneur Cheong Lok Tin, latest records from the property and company registries show. Mr Cheong, the chairperson of San You Development Co. Ltd. which has developed a number of luxury residential projects, including The Residencia Macau in Areia Preta; Greenville, Kings Ville and The Manhattan in Taipa; and Avenida in NAPE, opposite to NAPE Zone No.135, holds a 70-percent stake in Sunnyville Property while the rest of the shares belong to a businessman called Wang Zupei. 

The NAPE No.135 land plot had also sat idle for years before Sunnyville Property re-applied to the authorities for constructing a 33-storey, 90-metre residential tower on the site in 2015. According to data from DSSOPT, the project will boast 481 flats, including 400 studio units. The tower has not been issued an occupation permit by DSSOPT yet, but its exterior has been completed. Although Sunnyville Property has not named the project as of now, sources in the real estate industry say the sales campaign of the project could officially kick off in the second half of this year, most likely the fourth quarter.

The Chans

The remaining land plot that could be zoned for a 90-metre tall building on the southern foothills of Guia Hill is NAPE Zone No.133 on No.417 Avenida do Dr. Rodrigo Rodrigues. According to the records from the property and business registries, the 3,520 square metre parcel is controlled by Man Pong Real Estate and Development Company Limited, which had once been held by Iu Kam Pan, a local businessman in the construction industry, and his wife.

The land owner had made two attempts to apply for an Urban Conditions Plan respectively in 2016 and 2019, before DSSOPT formally issued the conditions plan in June 2019, paving way for the start of construction. While the plot is zoned for non-industrial development, Man Pong Real Estate’s the exact plan for the land is not yet known.

With signs of progress after the parcel sitting idle for years, the company has changed hands in recent times. Company records show Mr. Iu and his wife sold all the shares of Man Pong Real Estate to two companies, San Pou Kong Investment Company Limited, and San Ieng U Investment and Development Company Limited, earlier this year for an unspecified amount, with both firms holding half the stakes in Man Pong. At the same time, Man Pong Real Estate had pledged the land earlier this year to local lender Tai Fung Bank with a guarantee amount of HK$2.7 billion, property registry documents show.

The new boss behind the land plot is linked to political heavyweight and businessman Chan Meng Kam. The founder and chairman of Golden Dragon Group, that runs four local casino hotel properties as well as businesses of tourism, hotels, taxi, electrical appliances and security system across the region, now owns a 52 percent share in San Pou Kong while his daughter Chan Sin Man holds a 30 percent interest. This means both the father and daughter together directly hold a 41 percent interest in NAPE Zone No.133. The remaining shares of San Pou Kong are shared among businessman Choi I Sam and businesswoman Hoi Xiaoyan.

With regard to San Ieng U, the firm is equally controlled by businessmen Ng Sek Sam and Hoi Man Pak, both from the local Fujian community, the same with Mr. Chan, who was also a former Macau legislator and a past Executive Council member between 2009 and 2019.

Failed housing project

Before the takeover of Man Pong Real Estate in 2004, the NAPE No.133 parcel plot was originally possessed by a now defunct firm called Kinbo Land Investment Company Limited. The Hong Kong enterprise bought the parcel in 1991 with a plan to develop a housing complex called Hong Fok Garden (鴻福花園). It had started pre-sales of the residential development in the early 1990’s, resulting in the sale of 90 out of 116 units in the planned project, according to media reports and court documents. The firm also inked a financing agreement at the time with Kuong Ian Construction and Real Estate Company Limited that was backed by capital from nearby Guangdong to develop the project.

However, Kinbo had later been embroiled in financial turmoil, and it was unable to kick start construction of the project and settle loans with Kuong Ian. In 2003, the Guangdong capital backed firm retrieved NAPE Zone No.133 after Kinbo had gone bankrupt, and it sold the parcel a year later to Kai Tai Real Estate Investment Limited, controlled by Cheung Choi Seng and Cheung Kam Fong, veteran local real estate developers. Kai Tai then re-sold it to Man Pong Real Estate at over MOP60 million in the same year.

Buyers of Hong Fok Garden have pressured the land owner to complete the project or make compensations over the years, while NAPE Zone No.133 sat idle for over two decades. The buyers have even taken Kinbo, Kuong Ian, Kai Tai, and Man Pong Real Estate to the court, so it remains to be seen whether this saga, together with public pressure over the height of high-rise towers in the area, will affect the future development of the project.