That One Particular Star

by Marc Almagro
Photos by Chino Sardea, assisted by JR Tu
Art direction by V.C Chong
18 Jan 2019

Ms. Leny Suparman tells a detailed and absorbing story of KOP Limited, and how it is developing into a fascinating constellation

Ms. Leny Suparman, group CEO and executive director of KOP Limited, still gets excited about the prospect of launching a new project. She has delivered gilded apartments and swanky resorts with her friend and business partner Ms. Ong Chih Ching since they got into property development around 2006, but she appears to have no difficulty reliving the magic of the first time.

On a sunny weekday morning at Montigo Resorts Nongsa, KOP’s family-oriented getaway on Batam Island in Indonesia, she talks excitedly about KOP’s latest venture, Wintastar Shanghai, an integrated resort built around what would be the world’s largest indoor ski and snow park, with retail and F&B outlets, water park, entertainment areas, spa, and hotels.

The components of the resort will be managed by different entities, Ms. Suparman explains; Majid Al Futtaim, the Emirati operator of Ski Dubai, will operate the 90,000 square-meter Ski & Snow Park, comprising slopes for both advanced and leisure skiers, as well as several snow play areas. Montigo Resorts, KOP’s hospitality brand, will manage the four themed hotels which will offer a combined accommodation of over 1,000 guest rooms. The multimillion-renminbi project is slated to open in 2022, and will occupy a gross floor area of 227,000 square meters.

Although the magnitude of the project cannot be disregarded, the seamless integration of various components, the development of themes, and their articulation in various facilities are highly valuable draws of the integrated resort. From ski schools to themed hotels, all the way to ski-in-ski-out hotels access and après-ski, the integrated resort is aimed at providing an immersive experience as well as developing modern ski culture in China.    

The partners in the venture are Shanghai Lujiazui Development (Group) Company Ltd, KOP’s wholly owned subsidiary Wintastar Holdings, and Shanghai Harbor City Development (Group) Co. They have set up Shanghai Snow Star Properties Co, a joint venture company that is developing the integrated resort project.

The integrated resort is located in Lingang in the Pudong District, a new area for development that is being roundly promoted by the Shanghai government. Recent attractions in the area include Shanghai Disney Resort, Shanghai Haichang Polar Ocean World, and Shanghai Planetarium. Wintastar, with an integrated offering 
of sports, leisure, hospitality, entertainment and tourism, is expected to attract millions of visitors annually, mainly from China, on stabilized basis.


Charting A Constellation

Wintastar is the fully realized version of an idea that a Russian friend had brought to Ms. Suparman and Ms. Ong about 
six years ago. “It was just a small ski slope under a glass dome,” 
Ms. Suparman recalls; “he had wanted to do it in Hong Kong, 
and was looking for a developer to partner with.” Ms. Ong, 
however, had other ideas. She thought adding components such as hospitality and retail – turning it into an integrated resort – would make it more attractive and commercially viable.

Around the time that the pitch came, Ms. Suparman and 
Ms. Ong were observing a change in consumer behavior. 
“We felt that commercial real estate was transforming  and heading towards a different direction. Consumers were looking for new experiences; even retail was changing as online shopping became popular. The idea for an integrated resort that offered varied, immersive experiences seemed interesting,” Ms. Suparman says. “We were interested in doing something different, perhaps slightly outrageous, and big – we always have – and we thought a ski resort was worth looking into.”

Their first move was to look around Singapore for possible sites. 
“In Singapore, after the IRs, after Gardens By The Bay, what else was there? You can’t build the same thing over and over no matter how successful it is. So we spoke to the authorities to find a piece of land, but based on the numbers we were given, it would take us 20 years just to break even.”


The Luxury Standpoint

There was time when Ms. Suparman was working for property consultancy CBRE, and Ms. Ong was a corporate lawyer with her own practice. Focused on building their own careers, they were also keen on trying their hands in business. They got together in 2003 and set up a watch business that they called Bezel. The experience made them realize that they can work together doing bigger things.  

At one point, Ms. Ong was servicing a client that was looking to acquire a site. When the client abandoned his plans, Ms. Ong and Ms. Suparman decided to pursue the project albeit from their own perspective. Borrowing money from family, friends and business associates, Ms. Suparman and Ms. Ong acquired Horizon View, a residential condominium on Cairnhill Road that was on en bloc sale, and build in its place a branded residence.

They managed to get Ritz-Carlton to endorse the project, a major feat considering their lack of real estate cred, and Ritz-Carlton’s  first experience in partnering in a residential development outside North America. “We wanted to do something different. Besides your apartment, all common areas are managed by Ritz-Carlton – according to their standard. It’s a branded residence; it’s like you’re staying in a hotel except this is your home.”

Discreet luxury pervades the 56-residence-plus-two-penthouse development, echoing the site’s narrow frontage and elevated slope that denied motorists a glimpse of the property. “This sort of things resonated with us because we felt we understood luxury. We knew what people wanted, and were aware of the gap in the local market.” Their conviction persuaded The Ritz-Carlton to come on board, although not before a long drawn-out, rigorous to-and-fro. “Whatever was required, we tried to surpass. From design details down to M&E, to the installation of sprinklers, which were not a standard in Singapore residential projects – we tried to exceed expectations.”


Up the Ante

The duo upped the ante in their next project, Hamilton Scotts, where signifiers of the pre-Lehman Brothers-style luxury are heaped on the property. Occupying the site of the former Asia Hotel, Hamilton Scotts has a wide street-facing frontage and featured automobile lifts, which deliver the residents’ luxury vehicles right up to the en suite sky car porch in the apartments. It was every car lover’s dream home.

Up until then, Ms. Suparman and Ms. Ong were still just testing the waters, taking on a single project and raising funds for it. But with Hamilton Scotts, they set up KOP Capital, in anticipation of more commitments in real estate. “KOP Capital reflected our business model; we were more of property investors rather than full-fledged property developer,” says Ms. Suparman. “We were raising third party capital, managing projects, and earning management fees.”  

Hamilton Scotts and The Ritz-Carlton Residences Singapore share some similarities. They were built within months of each other, in very close proximity, and targeted at more or less the same group very wealthy homebuyers. “How do you do two projects that are both luxurious and yet very different so that they don’t end up cannibalizing each other,” asks Ms. Suparman. “We decided to try something flamboyant for Hamilton Scotts, something that shouted, ‘Hey, look at me!’.”  

After the completion of two luxury residential projects, Ms. Suparman and Ms. Ong ventured into office development. Their next project, The Scotts Spazio, was a transitional office also on Scotts Road. “That was very challenging: We had to construct a 160,000-square-foot, four-floor office building within nine months,” says Ms. Suparman. Nobody thought they could pull it off. The land only had 15 years left on its lease. Construction would eat into the years and put off potential tenants. The only solution was a quick turnaround, cost-efficient building for a tenant looking for medium-term occupancy.

“Around that time, my father was involved in the post-tsunami rehabilitation in Aceh, Ms. Suparman remembers. “He was building prefab houses at the rate of four units every six days. 
We thought of using the technology for the project.”

Life insurance firm Prudential took up the lease. Securing a tenant was crucial to the plan. “We didn’t want to be greedy and wait for the highest rent offer. We just wanted a solid deal. Once we secured the land, we had to start construction immediately. With a top grade tenant like Prudential, 
we obtained financing easily. After we delivered 
the project, three other sites that went up were 
done in the same way.”


The Hospitality Factor

“We wanted Montigo (Resorts Nongsa) to be a destination for boat owners,” Ms. Suparman tells me as we take a break from our meandering interview. KOP has already managed to create a multi-generational environment where every member of the family can find something that fits his vacation requirements. From our spacious and stylish four-bedroom villa, we surveyed the empty beach. “We stumbled upon this plot of land, and wanted to develop something luxurious. It has been five years since we launched and some things have changed even outside the resort. We’re just 30 minutes away from Singapore, we have a newly developed marina, and a kilometer-long beach.”

The villas are arrayed all over the slopes, positioned to ensure ample sea view. There are different zones, from active to restful, where amenities catered to different guest preferences are located. There are ongoing developments in the sprawling resort compound, promising additional activities and accommodations.

“It is possible to live here even if you have business in Singapore or in town. All our villas will be released in phases for sale. The buyers can put 
them back into a rental program, and we will manage the leasing, they are also guaranteed a number of days should they decide to visit and stay,” Ms. Suparman explains.

Montigo Resorts has a second location in Seminyak in Bali, and with the completion of Wintastar, it will have a foothold in a new market. This is something that KOP has been planning all along. From Shanghai, they hope to bring the brand to other places, subsequently elevating the brand and applying industry knowledge accumulated from running a variety of hotels and resorts. 

Shot on location at Montigo Resorts, Batam

Makeup by Ginger Lynette using Cle De Peau makeup, hair by Kenneth Ong using Keune hair products