Building Luxury

By Karen Tee
Photography by Darren Gabriel Leow
Grooming by Jace Ang
Shot on location at Capella Singapore
31 Mar 2023

From the brand new Capella Sydney to the ambitious Maldives Fari Islands project, David Tsang, Chief Executive Officer of Pontiac Land Group is upholding the luxury property developer’s ethos of thoughtful architecture and fostering community through its developments.

When David Tsang is on the road, what he seeks is an experience that cannot be replicated elsewhere. “During a family trip to Perth last year, I asked the sommelier to give me something that I cannot find anywhere else,” recalls the CEO of Pontiac Land Group.

By interacting with the locals and being willing to try something different, he has uncovered small batch products and unique finds that cannot be found outside of their place of origin, bringing an additional layer of discovery to his journeys. “This is what makes travel special,” he says.

This authentic sense of place that the modern luxury traveller seeks is exactly what the Pontiac Land Group offers through its portfolio that includes hospitality, retail, and residential properties in Singapore, New York, Maldives, and Sydney.

The homegrown 60-year-old company has spearheaded the development of several iconic luxury properties in the little red dot over the decades, including Capella Singapore. In the ‘90s, the Group’s luxury integrated Millenia Singapore development comprising The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore, Conrad Centennial Singapore, Millenia Tower, Centennial Tower, and Millenia Walk played a key role in breathing life and vibrancy into the then-new district.

While Singapore will always be our home market and we will always seek interesting projects here, as we continue to grow, like most groups, we need to look abroad.

Over the last decade, it has leveraged this expertise to expand its footprint abroad. An industry veteran with over three decades of experience, Tsang, who joined Pontiac Land in 2019 says, “While Singapore will always be our home market and we will always seek interesting projects here, as we continue to grow, like most groups, we need to look abroad.”

Its first overseas foray was the ultra-swanky condominium 53 West 53, an iconic skyscraper designed by starchitect Jean Nouvel in midtown Manhattan. Pontiac Land also co-founded Capella Hotel Group in Asia and subsequently acquired Capella Group as a wholly owned subsidiary in 2017, expanding its presence to over 20 destinations globally.


Reinvigorating the Sydney CBD

The new Capella Sydney

Just last month, the Group launched the latest jewel in its crown – Capella Sydney.

Housed within the historic Department of Education building designed in the 1900s by then New South Wales government architect George McRae, it took the Group seven years of restoration and renovation to reimagine the premises as a luxury hotel that remains true to its origins.

“This was a very intriguing project for us because in many ways, it ticks a lot of boxes in terms of what we look out for. It has a great location right in the middle of Sydney’s central business district and is an architecturally beautiful and historic building that tells a story. The project also allows us to leverage our expertise and experience in terms of placemaking and building communities,” says Tsang.

Located within the prestigious Sandstone Precinct, the 192 key hotel occupies an entire city block within a stone’s throw of landmarks including Circular Quay, the Opera House, and Harbour Bridge, making it a linchpin for the city’s post-pandemic revival.

  • A peek at one of the stylish guestrooms at Capella Sydney
  • Indoor pool
  • A cozy corner at the McRae Bar
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“The CBD has not really seen a new luxury hotel in the last 20 years, so there has definitely been a demand for something new in the downtown Sydney area. When we approached this, having the heritage and conservation element really distinguishes this from a new build,” he elaborates.

To transform what was once an “enclosed” government building into a hotel that features public spaces for guests to enjoy, the Group embarked on a thoughtful yet ambitious refurbishment that included building an air well into the middle of the building to allow natural light to flood the interiors right to the ground floor.

This resulted in the creation of a spacious lounge area, known as Aperture, which is situated in the original courtyard of the old building. It is now the central point from which the hotel’s other amenities are accessed. These include the main restaurant Brasserie 1930 and McRae Bar.

For a literally elevated touch of luxury, the Group installed a swimming pool on the sixth floor by constructing what is essentially a freestanding structure to support the pool. This was an “extremely complicated” process, but one that was necessary to allow guests to enjoy the skylights instead of placing the pool in the basement of the building.


Shaping Communities

On top of repurposing the building, the Group also takes a custodial, long-term view in fostering communities in the destinations it’s located in.

“Pontiac Land has always been passionate about creating meaningful developments that contribute and help shape their communities. Capella Sydney was an ideal opportunity for us to sensitively repurpose this culturally significant landmark in the heart of downtown Sydney and transform it into a more public offering as a leading luxury hotel for everyone to be able to experience,” he says.

While it is still early days, Tsang notes that he is already beginning to see the early signs of the precinct’s transformation. For instance, the city has increased connectivity to the area with an airport train that stops in the neighborhood and intersects with local tram routes. There are also a few other construction projects in the area and small cafes and restaurants are beginning to pop up. 

“Because we develop and continue to own and operate our projects, we think about the community we are in, how it’s going to transform, and how we can contribute to that transformation,” he reveals.


Sustainable Development

The Ritz-Carlton Maldives

Tsang, who was one of three founding members of SC Global Pte Ltd, a real estate and hotel advisory and investment company, observes that with sustainability at the forefront of travellers’ concerns, the time is ripe for the wider industry to step up accountability.

For companies like Pontiac Land, who have consistently upheld this ethos of responsible development, the goal is to continue doing so in a meaningful way.

He points to the company’s ambitious Fari Islands Maldives project, which bucks the tradition of resorts being developed on a single solitary island. Instead, this project comprises an archipelago of three different luxury resorts on three islands – Patina Maldives, The Ritz-Carlton Maldives, and the soon-to-open Capella Maldives – together with a fourth island, the Fari Campus, which is dedicated to staff accommodation.

(Related: Into the Deep - Maldives Revisited)

Patina Maldives

The goal of the staff island, which includes living quarters and recreational and training facilities, is to ensure that employees have more opportunities to enjoy work-life balance. Tsang says, “We believe that if we are able to hire the right people and build a community, they will provide an even higher level of service for our guests. 

It may be an unprecedented move, but that is not deterring Tsang and his team. He says, “We are very passionate about what we do and when we have a chance to do something amazing, we try to figure out how to achieve it rather than to take the easy road. It is an opportunity to create something that is long lasting, I think, even beyond all our lifetimes.”