The Star Online, October 28, 2007
By Chan Ching Thut
Revived and renewed. Such is the lot of Sentul. Deriving its name from the Sandoricum koetjape tree (a fast-growing, upright-trunk tree which can grow up to 150 feet), Sentul may not have conjured much of a positive image for property buyers over a decade ago.
Part of it was due to the area's image (railway workshops and downtrodden) and stigma (poor and crime-infested) and to a certain extent, the lack of private housing development.
As YTL Land & Development Bhd executive director Datuk Yeoh Seok Kian aptly put it:
"Nobody wanted to know about Sentul. It had such a bad reputation."
Nevertheless, the company, through its subsidiary Sentul Raya Sdn Bhd went ahead and took over a stalled project.
The developer aims not only to renew its physical environment and wealth but also to renew its community, their access to local services and relationship with the area.
Yeoh acknowledged that Sentul was one of YTL's most ambitious projects in terms of size and complexity. It was not a very good area but challenges are what YTL always thrives on.
We pride ourselves on being able to rejuvenate abandoned places, he said.
A second lease of life
The development of Sentul has been a bumpy journey stretching way back to the mid-1990s.
In 1995, Taiping Consolidated Bhd, in a joint venture with Keretapi Tanah Melayu Bhd, launched what was to be the city's largest urban development to rejuvenate Sentul from a poor suburb to modern, colourful and energetic enclave.
Known as Sentul Raya, the project was hit by the Asian financial crisis in 1997/98 and was deferred. Faced with financial difficulty, Taiping Consolidated went through a restructuring exercise, which resulted in YTL Corp Bhd buying over its assets and taking over the company.
It was subsequently renamed YTL Land & Development. A change of name was mulled, said Yeoh.
"But we thought we should stick to Sentul; it is a name of a tree. We will build it up and hopefully, it will turn to something that everybody will love," he added.
The Sentul Master Plan
In the original plan, the Sentul Raya development included 380-unit highcost and 774-unit medium cost apartments as well as a nine-hole golf course and 68 units of shoplots.
When YTL took over, the project became simply known as Sentul and the plan was revised. The golf course was the first to go, to be replaced by a private park. That did not go down well with the property buyers but Yeoh argued that more people could enjoy the use of a park.
"The whole area has great potential because there are some old buildings that are very historical and have very strong architectural features. We turned one of the engineering workshops into the Kuala Performing Arts Centre (KLPac)," he said, adding that some of the old buildings would be converted into art galleries and restaurants.
A railway line separates the 294-acre Sentul master plan into Sentul West and Sentul West, each with distinct characteristics.
Yeoh said: "The west is for those who like a serene life within a park, which is suitable for family and children. The east is more for those who are young, vibrant and full of energy; they like a lot of activity and nightlife."
To create more activities in the eastern portion, a shopping centre similar to a hypermarket is planned. Yeoh said the east and west would be linked by a skywalk, connecting the Sentul KTM Komuter station with the Sentul Timur LRT station.
"It will cut through buildings and provide links between both stations,” he added.
At present, 2,000 families have moved into Sentul, after the completion of The Tamarind and The Maple condominiums. The Saffron is still under construction and more residential developments are in the pipeline.
KLPac theatre manager Teoh Ming Jin said Sentul's atmosphere had improved, with the new buildings built around the old instead of them being torn down.
"Sentul has a very colourful culture and community," he said. Yeoh believes property buyers are now more interested in Sentul and he indicated that the value of land around the area has more than doubled.
"Of course, the community around here was skeptical when we first came in. "Indirectly, we are also helping with unemployment in the community as some have found jobs with us," he said.
With the help of the Government in infrastructure, Sentul has changed and more changes are in store, said Yeoh.
Sentul in the making
The Sentul Master Plan, unveiled in 2002, is a ten-year development plan. Five years on, the area is slowly taking shape and will probably turn out to be one of the most sought-after addresses for those seeking urban living within a lush green park.
This year, the Sentul project was awarded the Malaysia Property Award 2007 in the category for Best Master Plan.