Sunday 19 May 2024
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Walking into Menara Citibank in Jalan Ampang, it was hard to tell that the building had stood there for 25 years and there were ongoing upgrading works. Standing tall at 50 storeys in Kuala Lumpur’s Golden Triangle, the purpose-built Grade A commercial office building adjoins the InterContinental Kuala Lumpur hotel in a mixed strata development.

Completed in 1998, Menara Citibank is owned by Inverfin Sdn Bhd — equally owned by Menara Citi Holding Co Sdn Bhd and Hap Seng Realty (KL City) Sdn Bhd. Inverfin, formerly owned by Lion Group, was set up in 1984 to develop the mixed strata development, of which the hotel component was sold to a third party.

Menara Citibank comprises large floor plates of column-free office spaces, with a total net floor area of about 733,237 sq ft. Despite its age, it is Green Building Index (GBI)-certified. The tower is divided into three zones — Low (Levels 1 to 18), Mid (Levels 19 to 34) and High (Levels 35 to 50) — with office space ranging from 16,000 to 18,000 sq ft; five basement car park levels with roughly 1,500 bays that are shared with the hotel; and a rooftop helipad.

In addition to the surrounding amenities, Menara Citibank’s occupants and visitors can enjoy a good range of conveniences within the building itself, including retail stores such as San Francisco Coffee, Family Mart and Boost Juice, as well as a retail banking hall, florist, clinic, surau and a food court on Level 5 with 18 food operators. There is also a community floor and café on Level 35 and a gymnasium on Level 37 that is operated by the anchor tenant Citibank Group for its staff.

In terms of connectivity and accessibility, the office tower has two exits, on Jalan Ampang and Jalan Binjai, is a five-minute walk to the Ampang Park LRT station and enjoys direct access to the taxi and bus stops in front of the building.

Despite being a 25-year-old building, Menara Citibank is GBI-certified. (Photo by Suhaimi Yusuf/The Edge)
The main entrance and lobby of Menara Citibank. (Photo by Suhaimi Yusuf/The Edge)

Knight Frank Property Management Sdn Bhd (KFPM) has been the appointed property manager for Menara Citibank since 2014. Its managing

director Kuruvilla Abraham starts by commending Inverfin for its initiative to continuously upgrade Menara Citibank.

“One of the things I must compliment Inverfin on is that it has a lot of initiative to upgrade the building, which is 25 years old and counting. [Otherwise,] with the technological needs we have today, it will not be able to compete in this market. Taking the initiative to upgrade the property and make it relevant, in addition to the added complexity of having two corporations [Citi and Hap Seng] come together, and with us, to do all these — that in itself is a major compliment,” he says.

In addition to property management, Knight Frank is the exclusive listing agent for Menara

Citibank. “We’ve been managing the building for nine years now. This reflects the level of trust and good working relationship [between ourselves and the owners],” Kuruvilla remarks.

“You see, as property managers, we can only make recommendations. So to have owners who can understand and take our suggestions, and subsequently implement them, shows the fantastic relationship we have.

“I must also say we have an excellent team here, which has been a major point of the relationship … not only in terms of working closely together but understanding what the owners are looking for, and the owners understand why we are coming up with such recommendations. The site team is also supported by the big team we have at Knight Frank. All this shows the level of commitment from Knight Frank.”

Menara Citibank has won Gold at The Edge Malaysia Best Managed & Sustainable Property Awards 2023 for the 10 Years and Above — Single-owned Office in a Mixed Strata Development category. It also won the Editor’s Choice Award for Malaysia’s Outstanding Sustainable Office Development.

Managing expectations

One of the main challenges about maintaining Menara Citibank is its age. “Most of the building systems require upgrading and repair works to better accommodate the high level of expectations from our anchor tenants, which are predominantly or about 80% from the financial and oil and gas sectors. Hence, rectification works need to be carried out in stages to ensure the building’s functionality is compatible with the latest technology and is sustainable,” says KFPM centre manager Tai Sue Ching.

“In addition, the building’s needs may change over time. For example, occupancy rates and new regulations are some of the things that could cause upkeep challenges. So, our team will have to be always vigilant, think ahead and take preventive measures to mitigate issues and high cost. Every year, we conduct a building condition assessment to identify the critical areas for improvement and submit the rectification or improvement proposals to the owners for consideration,” she adds.

“I think this is expected of a building that is 25 years old,” Kuruvilla chimes in. “Most of the equipment would have reached [the end of] their life cycle because we’ve stretched them to the maximum and therefore an upgrade is needed. The owners have been very supportive, so that has made our life a lot easier as well.”

For Knight Frank, upgrading is not just about putting back what was there before. “Rather, it’s about embracing technology and green and sustainable features in the upgrade as well. It’s all about making the building competitive in the market,” he says.

The most recent and still ongoing upgrade at Menara Citibank is the lift modernisation works that started in 2020 and is targeted to be completed by year end. “The project to carry out lift modernisation for the 25 lifts in the building was [approved by the owners] in 2019,” says Kuruvilla.

“In a way, the Covid-19 pandemic made it easier because people couldn’t come to work. Upgrading a lift system in an occupied building is challenging because of the inconvenience to the occupants. There will be inconveniences but that depends on how we manage it. So far, the tenants have been understanding and are actually happy that the building is being upgraded.”

KFPM executive director Winnie Lim notes that the lift modernisation works are going to be completed on schedule despite the delays during the pandemic. “We kick-started the project in 2020 but work was delayed because of the MCO (Movement Control Order) [and some supply chain issues, as some of the parts come from overseas]. But we have caught up and are well within the planned time frame of 3½ years to complete the project.”

Another major upgrade was to the piping system in Menara Citibank. “We replaced all the aged ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) pipes in the building in 2019 and 2020 with PPR (polypropylene random copolymer) pipes. The PPR pipes carry more benefits than the ABS pipes as they are made of a non-toxic green material that is corrosion-free, have low water flow resistance and require less maintenance,” Kuruvilla explains.

“We actually use Menara Citibank as a case study for some of the older buildings that we manage. So [when owners need a reference], we’ll say go to Menara Citibank and tell us how you find it. Some of them actually came to look and were [impressed]. This is the beauty about doing something so others can come to see and know what to expect. ”

The office tower’s Level 5 food court is open to the public
(From left) Tai, Chew, Lim and Kuruvilla

All things sustainable

When it comes to sustainability, Tai notes that the building has to be aligned with Citi’s sustainability goals. “Our owner, and especially our main tenant Citibank Group, is committed to reaching net zero by 2050 and to reduce the environmental footprint of its operations,” she says, adding that Citibank has obtained the WELL certification, which is quite rare in the market, for the majority of their floors in the building. The WELL Building Standard is a system that measures the built environment for the health and well-being of its occupants.

Meanwhile, the ongoing lift modernisation work has contributed quite significantly to Menara Citibank’s energy efficiency.

“The lifts use gearless traction PM (permanent magnet) motors and VVVF (variable-voltage, variable-frequency) control, which conserve a significant amount of energy and reduce carbon dioxide emissions. At the same time, we are now updating our building management system (BMS) and the updated version will provide integration of green technology and more features for energy monitoring,” says Tai.

To further ensure healthy indoor air quality, all the AHU (air handling unit) filters in the building have been upgraded to MERV 13 since early last year, says Kuruvilla. “We’ve upgraded the filters from MERV 6 to MERV 13. In addition to giving better air filtration, they also help contain the spread of the Covid-19 virus. This is important to assure tenants that it’s safe to come back to the office.”

Menara Citibank’s average occupancy rate is 80%. “During Covid, we were running slightly lower at 79%, but we’ve brought in new tenants along the way. The most recent tenant took up about 3.4% of the net lettable area with a long-term tenancy of 15 years,” says KFPM senior finance manager Sally Chew.

The key to successful management and maintenance of Menara Citibank is down to data, says Kuruvilla. “Good property management is having data, and we have a lot of data. We have to look at where the data is captured and how we are using the data to inform our decision-making.

“For us, we use a property management software, iKFPM. We didn’t just buy the software off the shelf. We bought part of it and customised most of it, and we’ve rolled the system out to all the buildings we manage. One of the first things we do when we take over a building is to get all the inventory into the software. Everything that is in a manual or on hard copies is transferred to our system. From there, we can start working out the planned preventive maintenance, issue work orders and get maintenance history of things done, because it’s all in there. This has made communication and maintaining the building a lot more effective.”

Having this data, he adds, will ensure the longevity of Menara Citibank. “We may not be here forever, and neither will the owners, but we have all this data. So, when the new owners come in, they don’t have to worry about the building’s history. It’s all there and we can just transfer it to an Excel spreadsheet and they can take it from there. And that’s important. We’re not just a caretaker, but we have to make sure the building remains occupiable, is able to meet technological needs and is environmentally friendly in the years to come.”

Kuruvilla and Inverfin Sdn Bhd management committee member Allan Teh (third and fourth from left) with (from left) The Edge Malaysia editor-in-chief Kathy Fong, The Edge Malaysia editor emeritus and the awards’ chief judge Au Foong Yee, Minister of Local Government Development Nga Kor Ming, The Edge Media Group publisher and group CEO Datuk Ho Kay Tat and City & Country editor ­ E Jacqui Chan

Constant improvement

The task of maintaining a building is never easy and a never-ending one. “You can never finish upgrading a building because there are always things that are coming to the end of their lifespan. So, we’ll continue looking at how we can improve,” says Kuruvilla.

“We’re also constantly looking at the ESG (environmental, social and governance) agenda and how we can take it further. We want to look at the health and wellness part, and when things are more settled, maybe have wellness programmes for our tenants.”

To adapt to the changing work culture, the property manager conducts tenant surveys. “The whole working culture has changed and is changing. Today’s needs are different from even two to three years ago. So, we always have to be adaptable and flexible to those changes. Based on their needs, we will assess whether it is viable for the building to provide such a facility. Of course, we will be limited by the building structure, but whatever we can do, we will,” he says.

He adds that technology will continue to play a major role in the maintenance of the building. “We’re also looking at getting a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification. To get a green certification for an existing building is a major achievement and bonus for the building. We should encourage all existing buildings to do the same. Well, Menara Citibank has done it.”

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