A number of the older commercial structures located along Robinson Road in the CBD have seen significant changes in the past few years. The most recent is called 8 Robinson Road, which has been renovated and reopened for the grand opening ceremony on the 30th of August 30.
The 999-year leasehold commercial structure is now branded with the name of the address: 8 Robinson. Formerly named ASO Building, it is currently managed by Kiri Capital which is a private investment company established in 1991 by Philip Pao Sohmen, grandson of Late Hong Kong shipping magnate YK Pao. The building is a continuation of the Sohmen family’s ownership which started just after the building’s completion in 1991.
Prior to the retrofit, the most recent renovation was completed in the mid 2000s and it was a makeover to the lobby area of the building.
The property as well as the plant and equipment, which were more than 30-years-old, remained in the same condition for a long time. “That was the main motivation behind the overhaul this time around,” says Matthew Cantor who is the managing director and head of real estate for Kiri Capital.
Sustainability is one of the key features
The most recent refurbishment of 8 Robinson saw the installation of new electrical, mechanical and plumbing systems put in place, the old lift system was replaced by a the new one along with the facades of the rear and front have been changed. Alongside the main entrance to the building and a rear entrance with drop-off zone was constructed. “When Covid hit, we were aware that we needed to completely revamp the building if we wanted it to withstand the uncertainties that affect office assets in general,” says Cantor.
The building was awarded an Green Mark Gold Plus certification in accordance with the stricter Building and Construction Authority (BCA) Green Mark sustainability criteria in the year 2017. “We wanted to stay ahead of the trend as well as be the very first buildings to meet this newly introduced Green Mark Gold Plus rating,” says Cantor. BCA has raised the bar even higher by imposing more stringent standards in April 2021.
“Top companies are showing increasing preferences to buildings with sustainable credentials,” says Wong Xian Yang Cushman and Wakefield’s director of research for Singapore as well as Southeast Asia. “A Green Mark Gold Plus rating will meet the majority of tenants’ site choice criteria for sustainability.”
According to an Cushman & Wakefield Singapore research report from June 27 as high as 72% of Green Mark certified buildings (under the criteria for 2015) could not be eligible to receive an Green Mark rating under the more strict criteria for 2021.
“Tenant demand is split,” says Kiri Capital’s Cantor. “A contemporary building that has sustainable features such as with a Green Mark rating and outdoor spaces will experience a strong interest.” In the contrary, he says that Grade-B and GradeC office buildings that aren’t renovated or updated with the most recent sustainable options or Green Mark rating will become “commoditised” and will be competing only on rent prices.
Prior to the refurbishment that was recently completed the rent at the 8 Robinson Road hovered between $6.50 per month in psf and $7 psf for a month according to the most recent round of lease renewals which took place in 2019. A lot of tenants were long-term, and some of them occupied the building for over ten years.
Catering to post-Covid concerns
In shifting the 8 Robinson, Kiri Capital focused on office tenants that have space requirements of 3,000 square feet to 5,000 square feet. “Many of these tenants see shophouses as as an alternative to traditional office spaces,” says Cantor. “However we attempted to solve some of the limitations of shops, like space and energy efficiency, in order to establish the market of a new segment that we could serve with our new building.”
The building was designed as “vertically stacking shops” created by Singapore’s ID Architects (IDA), the building is 16 stories high and has eight office units, mostly duplex office suites that range between 2,300 sq ft and 4,510 square feet. Cantor says one of the buildings will also have the prominent Raffles Place signage.
The building is a tribute to the history of the area which was once a single shophouse parcel. Printing and bookseller GH Kiat & Co operated from a three-storey storehouse on 8. Robinson Road for 27 years between 1936 and 1963. GH Kiat & Co. was established around 1918, by the managing director Goh Hood Kiat. He was the cousin of Goh Keng Swee, Singapore’s former deputy prime minister and finance minister.
At 8 Robinson 8 Robinson, half of office units come with balconies. But, Cantor states that the majority of the offices have permeable rear glass, which allows for total indoor-outdoor versatility at every level. The latest features of this property include lifts that come with air purifiers. The variable refrigerant flow (VRF) air conditioning system ensures that each unit is equipped with its own air source. Each office is equipped with toilets, as well as facilities for the end of the trip, which include showers on every floor. The toilets have natural ventilation and have closed doors that are automated as well as air purifiers, plants and even a pond that have antibacterial properties.
“People will be happy not having to share airflow or toilets with tenants who are not their own,” says Cantor. “Our whole design was designed to meet the post-Covid requirements of office tenants.”
8 Robinson is seeking to fill a niche market, according to Cantor. The potential tenants are those who are outgrowing their coworking space, or even startup companies. These spaces could be appealing to companies who are thinking of moving from 7,000 sq feet to 10,000 sq feet.
Cushman and Wakefield’s Wong is in agreement: “It could be a perfect fit for companies seeking to grow or for firms that are maturing with well-established operations within Singapore.”
He states that Demand for the 8 Robinson is likely to originate from professional and financial services companies “who appreciate privacy, exclusivity and high quality specifications”. Possible tenants are family-owned offices, investments companies, law firms, and growing tech firms.
Based on an study of rental data conducted of Cushman & Wakefield, from the beginning of January through July 2023, 80% of leases that were signed in the District 1 and 2 areas included office spaces of 5,000 sq ft or less than.
In the CBD the asking rents for new office buildings are generally approximately $12 psf monthly according to Cushman and Wakefield’s estimates. Wong states that 8 Robinson is not comparable to the average grade-A office in the CBD with an average rent of $10.57 per month. This is because they are older office developments and much larger spaces.
Cushman & Wakefield is the appointed leasing agent of 8 Robinson. According to the company the leasing inquiries are “encouraging” with continuing active discussions. The building is a net lettable area of 32,000 sq. ft as office space over the entire structure, and approximately 1,100 square feet of retail space on the ground level and the mezzanine. This retail space is ideal for a cafe-cum-wine bars, according to Kiri Capital’s Cantor.
Robinson Road – friendly to busses, cyclists, and pedestrians
Cantor is delighted by URA’s plans to transform Robinson Road into a “transit-priority corridor” that will have greater space for bicycle paths, buses and pedestrian pathways in the master Plan 2019. URA has also stated that sidewalks with wider widths will result in getting more greenery as well as eating al fresco.
Robinson Road is currently a important bus route that connects two Downtown hubs of Raffles Place and Tanjong Pagar, according to URA. If Phases four and five of Thomson East’s Coast Line will be completed in 2024-2025, they will transform the way people from the East travel to the CBD to work. With new residential developments to be built within areas like Tanjong Pagar and Marina Bay area, as well as the opening of the brand new MRT stations and the redevelopment of CBD will be “transformative”. CBD could be “transformational” as stated by Cantor.
He says the cafe in 8 Robinson is a good fit for this current Robinson Road but will work even better in the coming Robinson Road when outdoor seating is permitted.
The back entrance of the building opens towards the park that is located next to the historic building, The Quadrant. Singapore Land Authority (SLA) is the owner of The Quadrant, encouraged the restaurant owner, Rosemead, a farm-to-table American grill operated by the umbrella of the Jigger & Pony Group, to open the park which, at night is transformed into an outdoor area.
Cantor claims at the back entry of 8 Robinson 8 Robinson, it’s just 10-steps to Raffles Place MRT interchange station. From the front entry point on Robinson Road, it is 15 steps to the MRT station through a shaded walkway.
In addition to Apart from 8 Robinson, Kiri Capital manages various commercial and residential properties in Singapore as well as conservation shophouses. The most recent acquisition it made was a joint investment in an office structure located in the Greater CBD area in 2018 that was later subjected to extensive refurbishment. “We enjoy value-add repositioning stories in our portfolio,” says Cantor.
Kiri Capital’s real estate operations extend across all over the world all the way all the way from Canada up to Japan, Singapore, the UK and the US. Cantor oversees all the portfolio. In addition to the 8 Robinson, Kiri Capital is finishing the renovation of a office structure located in London in September, and a multi-family residential building situated in Vancouver at the end of October. Both properties have distinctive heritage features. “Often it is better and makes better sense for us to put money into our existing properties instead of purchasing new properties,” says Cantor. “We believe there is more benefits in updating our portfolio, and also a higher opportunity cost if we don’t.”
Kiri Capital is cautious about the future prospects for the remainder this year. The issue is valuation. “No one can be certain which way real estate prices will be in nearly every asset category,” says Cantor. “It’s partially due to inflation, interest rates and general economic circumstances.”
According to Cantor the company is a long-term investment. “We are currently in a situation where it is sensible to collect some more data rather than rush to make investments,” he says. “We prefer to invest capitalregularly throughout cycles instead of trying to pinpoint the bottom to any given time.”