News of an overseas real estate firm opening an office in Hong Kong can be greeted with either a touch of scepticism or a healthy dose of suspicion. The local property industry is one of the richest in the world and the appetite for investment is well documented. In mid-2012, US-based developer Millennium Partners opened its fourth office, and first overseas, in IFC.
But Millennium Partners is no shady flyby- night operation. The luxury developer founded in 1991 has been doing business in Asia for many years and is familiar to local buyers and those in Taipei, Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. Whether for investment purposes or simply for use as a second home, MP has a rash of buyers that they can now offer support to more easily as well as broaden its reach.
“The launch of Millennium Partners’ Asia office represents an ideal convergence of opportunities for our partners and for discerning owners — access to world-class residences with contemporary design and the highest levels of service and comfort, great opportunity to take advantage of the favourable real estate prices in the US compared with many Asian cities, and access to residential developments in the most culturally diverse cities in the US,” notes Richard G Baumert, a partner at Millennium Partners. But he stresses MP isn’t going to hit the streets hawking its latest property. “The point is not to actively sell; there’s no store front. We’re not here for that. It’s more organic. It’s a different philosophy. I’d like to think we aren’t one of those guys in a ballroom somewhere in Hong Kong.”
MP has no plans to carry out any development of its own in the region either: it’s an American developer with American properties. Among MP’s existing projects are partnerships with the Ritz-Carlton and One Charles in Boston, the Four Seasons Hotel & Residences in Miami and its signature Millennium Tower in San Francisco, that city being a personal favourite for MP. “San Francisco has sprung back since 2008 but it’s always a prime market. There’s been tremendous activity in that city and property was selling at $2,000 per square foot at its peak. There’s limited supply and with the amount of money that’s come into the city the office market is on fire. The residential market has definitely improved,” Baumert points out. Millennium Tower is in the ultra-hip SoMA district and has set the bar for Millennium going forward. The blue glass curtain wall is a distinct addition to an already striking cityscape.
Following the success of Millennium Tower, MP has moved back east to Massachusetts and is currently at work on Millennium Place in Boston. Millennium Place will eventually be 256 one- two- and three-bedroom suites ranging from 775 to 2,360 square feet over 15 storeys. A first in Boston, the development will boast five-star amenities and services and could be called a vertical community that has every intention of feeding off its vibrant neighbourhood. The luxury development is ideally located in downtown Boston at Avery and Washington Streets a few minutes from the financial district and The Boston Common among a raft of other landmarks, dining, retail and schools. Designed by Blake Middleton at Handel Architects (Four Seasons Hotel & Residences Miami, 27 Times Square, Zhengzhou), the properties range between US$550,000 and $2.8 million (HK$4.3 to $22 million) and will be ready for occupancy in late-2013.
Millennium has developed properties in Miami, New York, Washington DC and San Francisco as well as other parts of Boston — the only city of that elite group that seems to stick out as a weak investment link; Beantown doesn’t exactly rank with London, New York or Singapore. “While it might not be a world destination city, it has the good economics in terms of job growth, bio-tech and so on. There aren’t too many cities in the United States that have that right now. It might not be viewed the same way as New York and London internationally but within the US it has a lot of desirability,” explains Baumert. As one of the oldest cities in the United States, the city holds the distinct position of being its educational trailblazer. “Internationally we see the value of its reputation for colleges and universities. A lot of what we’ve seen from people that have bought [here in Hong Kong] is for a place for kids to go to school.” Boston is, arguably, the birthplace of the Ivy League. For all its history and erudite sophistication, Boston maintains a working class image, reflected in the limited number of truly high-end properties in the city. Millennium Tower shouldn’t have trouble finding buyers, and MP isn’t lacking experience and knowledge of the town once cursed by The Babe. “The Ritz -Carlton was a substantial development and there’s not much competition for us in that city,” Baumert understates. “We’ve had some success in Boston.”