In January, Hong Kong–based Henderson Land Development Company collaborated with ULI Hong Kong’s Young Leaders Group (YLG) to create a case study workshop on the Newton Inn, an underperforming three-star hotel that the company seeks to either upgrade or convert to another use. Henderson Land sought input from young land use professionals on what to do about the 17-year-old hotel that caters to mainland Chinese tourists but is now showing its age.
Victor Kwok, the project management general manager at Henderson Land, told participants that the company had been studying possible schemes for redeveloping the hotel for several months before the workshop. Kwok said he hoped to see some innovative thinking from the YLG members.
“For young professionals, it’s a way of exercising creativity, and for Henderson Land, it’s a chance to receive some free advice,” said Douglas Wu, assistant vice president, investments, at Phoenix Property Investors and head of ULI Hong Kong’s Young Leaders Group.
“This is a really great way, from a developer’s perspective, to get some fresh proposals that we would have never thought of ourselves,” said Kristine Li Keng-yan, assistant general manager of portfolio leasing at Henderson Land and a member of the YLG. “We don’t want to give too many restrictions to the participants in the hope that they will come up with a lot of ‘out of the box’ ideas.”
The 32 participants were divided into five teams. Half of the participants were ULI members from companies such as Swire, Savills, CBRE, and RTKL, while the other half were graduate students from Hong Kong University. Each team was led by one senior ULI member. Three experts from Colliers International—David Faulkner, Dominic Chung, and David Wood—made up a panel of judges.
During a briefing on the project, Kwok urged the teams to come up with interesting and viable proposals. He talked about the Newton Inn’s position in North Point, a traditional, vibrant neighborhood and its location facing a lively market with all its associated smells and noise. The hotel’s access is frequently compromised by congestion on the street, he said.
After the briefing, there was a tour of the hotel and neighborhood, and then the teams had several decisions to make. They were instructed to act as professional consultants who had been hired to advise Henderson Land on potential schemes and assisted by experts from the hotel, leasing, valuation, and architectural fields. The teams had 90 minutes to come up with a proposal before it was time for their 15-minute presentations, which were followed by questions from the panel.
The five teams came up with very different ideas. The first wanted to renovate the hotel and bring in a franchise to manage it in the short term. The second group envisaged a “community-style residence” made up of a restaurant, micro apartments, and the rooftop/event space.
Another team saw potential in keeping the existing structure and repositioning the hotel property as a mixed-use center based around a restaurant aimed at millennials. The fourth group wanted the development to be a catalyst for change in the neighborhood by giving the property a younger, edgier feel with coworking spaces on the lower levels and serviced apartments on the higher levels. The final team recommended renovating the building into high-end student housing.
After much discussion, the idea of turning the lower floors into coworking spaces was judged as the best proposal. The winning team was headed by Ariel Shtarkman, founder of Orca Capital.
Faulkner, executive director of Colliers International, valuation and advisory services, Asia, explained that he served as a workshop judge as a way to give back to the ULI community. “As a senior member of ULI, I believe that working with youngsters is what ULI is all about. It’s a very practical way for them to understand the development process, and to understand the decisions that developers have to make when they have an asset such as this that isn’t performing in the way that they would like it to.”
Reporting provided by Blue Current Group, a public relations firm in Hong Kong.