Ricky Phoon is director of BEKL, an Australian developer whose latest project, Voco South Melbourne is an ambitious new development comprising 36 apartments and 2,293 sq.m. of office space and luxury hotel scheduled for completion in 2023.
BEKL’s director, Ricky Phoon was interviewed by The Asian Executive to understand the personal drivers to undertake ambitious new projects like Voco.
TAE: Why does property development fascinate you and have you always had a background in property or did you come from a non-property background?
Ricky Phoon: I didn’t come from a property background, but it doesn’t stop me from chasing my goal in property development. Property is about communication, finance and design. If you have these senses, anyone can be a developer too. Just like most of the developers, we want to be proud of our own development, we want to take our friends and family for a drive and show them what we have built and what hurdle we have gone through to get to where we are. Development involves many parties to talk to each other. To lead a team from scratch to finish, from a rundown building or vacant land to a good looking, finished property always gives me a big sense of achievement.
TAE: For Voco , what criteria led to Plus Architecture to be selected from a large pool of talented architectures in Australia?
Ricky Phoon: I personally have been working with Plus for a few projects in the past, understanding their capability, intelligence and attention to detail. Voco is a project we have been quietly working on for a number of years. Plus director Jessica Liew has been giving us her valuable opinion to give us confidence on the project. That’s why we chose Plus to be the architect.
TAE: Which demographic would Voco appeal and why?
Ricky Phoon: The location itself will attract both the corporate and leisure market given us proximity to the city, NGV and Albert park. Voco is a brand created by IHG that demonstrates their take on lifestyle offering. The use of color and design is fun, comfortable and relaxing, targeting guests that understand what they want, confidence and appreciate a work life balance, similar to BEKL’s values. This is why we choose to partner with IHG.
TAE: What are plans for your project roll-outs over the next 5 and 10 years?
Ricky Phoon: BEKL has been targeting income generating assets and we will still be acquiring similar assets in the next 5 years. In the past 6 months we have acquired different types of assets such as residential, office and service accommodation. We have a pipeline of development until 2025 and currently looking at different asset classes for the next 10 years to further diversify our portfolio.
TAE: What is your view of the current planning environment in Victoria and what changes would you like to see to facilitate greater development activity for a growing population?
Ricky Phoon: We appreciate all the planning laws created with a purpose to give residents a better living standard, however, very often the government seems to forget developers actually play a major role to deliver it. I still think that there is big room for improvement for the government and developers to communicate regularly and formally in the real estate sector. In a local council level, we will need to draw a line between law and policy. Neighbourhood characteristics have been heavily abused to a point that I think it is driving our neighbourhood to lose its character.
Due to COVID 19, the government has spent more than the government can handle to support the economy, I wouldn’t expect the government to do much further financially to support the growth in development activity. Things like relaxing FIRB criteria and stamp duty saving certainly help on the demand side of the new development, revisiting the current planning law will definitely be a big help on the supply side of it. A good example is to look at the introduction of C270, it literally drives developers away from CBD and develops elsewhere without these restrictions because the yield is not there.
TAE: Would you consider undertaking residential projects in other states? If so, which city would have the most appeal and why?
Ricky Phoon: We have been looking at NSW and QLD. With NSW, similar to Victoria it is a no brainer as it has heaps of business activity and the short supply of land do drive up the yield of investment. QLD is slowly catching up and they have beautiful weather and lifestyle that we believe there is good potential in the residential and hotel market.
For more information about BEKL, please visit bekl.com.au
For information about Plus Architeture, please visit www.plusarchitecture.com.au
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