Mammoth Empire strikes back at critics

“I have no time for gossip. My work, and focus, is to complete and deliver the project,” Datuk Danny Cheah replies when asked about market talk of delays and other issues at the company’s Empire City @ Damansara KL development.

“From our point of view, we want to do a good job in delivering to our purchasers, investors and bankers. So, we can’t be bothered with the rumours and market talk,” says Cheah, group executive director of Mammoth Empire Holdings Sdn Bhd.

“We are not some kind of set-up that makes a quick buck and flies off after. We have been around for 16 years … so we are here to stay,” he tells The Edge in a sit-down interview.

Nevertheless, the low-key Cheah admits to facing challenges along the way given the sheer size of the project, which sits on a 23-acre parcel next to Lebuhraya Damansara-Puchong (LDP).

Asked if the project is facing cash flow challenges, he says, “Of course cash flow remains a challenge for any business, big and small. If I told you that there are no cash flow challenges, I would be lying.

“To us, it is how we work [things] out in terms of overcoming these challenges. It is not a problem … We have not defaulted [on our loans] with any bank. We are still in a good position to move forward.”

Cheah points out that one of the group’s main banks, AMMB Holdings Bhd, has granted Mammoth Empire over RM700 million in loans in more than 12 years and the group has been on time with its payments.

“We have paid down our loans with the banking group to RM315 million [to date] for the Empire City project,” he says.

In terms of the progress of work on the site, Cheah acknowledges that there are delays. “Some parts are delayed, some parts are progressing okay … but overall, we know what our priority is — to deliver what we have promised. As far as the retail mall is concerned, we can defer the opening [because we own it]. But what we have committed and sold, we will deliver.”

He says the delay is partly due to the ambitious architectural plans for the project. “We have almost 200 types of façades. We want to make the project a real architectural showcase. Every shopfront is treated differently in terms of façade … It is taking quite some time for the designers to complete it.”

Another reason is the massive size of the mall, he explains. “The size is 2.3 million sq ft and this is not an ordinary development. Besides the four-level shopping mall, we have three levels of basement parking.

“Just imagine, we have 12 high-rises that sit on top of the podium. These high-rises interface and integrate with the mall — these are the things that we really need to look into.”

According to Cheah, the company is also developing the connectivity between Empire City and the surrounding major highways — the LDP and Penchala Link — as well as roads.

He remarks that the group has handed over six high-rises to date and will continue to complete the project “progressively”.

Phase 1 — comprising several blocks of office towers, serviced residences, five-star hotels (including one under the Marriott brand) and the huge shopping mall — was originally scheduled to be completed by end-2014.

Cheah reveals that the retail mall will likely open its doors for business at the end of this year.

“We are looking at sectional openings, with the F&B segment to start first to support all our tenants and purchasers who have moved in,” he says, adding that the mall already has tenants for 80% of the space.

“In view of the current economic situation, some of the retailers have asked to defer the opening [by] six months to a year.

“When the market is bullish, everything is fine … and I think it would be a much easier ride. But today, [with] the economic situation, we have to be more understanding with our tenants.”

As for a possible listing in the future, Cheah says Mammoth Empire is looking at a real estate investment trust. “There is no specific timeline. There is no hurry. We feel that the assets must be given time to reach their potential.” - The Edge Property