Real News‎ > ‎2014‎ > ‎March 2014‎ > ‎

13th March 2014

Singapore Real Estate

LaunchPad 'to regional start-up hub goal'

Source: Straits Times

Singapore's humble unofficial home for the fast-growing start-up community in a former flatted factory is now official - and is going to grow far bigger. In recent years, Block 71, in Ayer Rajah industrial estate, has attracted more than 100 start-ups, from chapati maker Zimplistic to travel portal Flocations.

Singapore unveils Silicon Valley- inspired LaunchPad @ one-north

Source: Business Times / Top Stories

[SINGAPORE] JTC LaunchPad @ one-north, a new startup cluster primed to be Singapore's very own startup valley, was unveiled yesterday by Minister of State for Trade and Industry Teo Ser Luck.

Comprising three adjoining buildings in Buona Vista - one new, another to be repurposed and the third is the current startup hub Block 71 - LaunchPad is in many ways Silicon Valley-inspired.

It will feature several cafes and food points where employees can gather to eat and converse; sports facilities that will foster interaction and provide relief from work; as well as indoor and outdoor collaborative spaces to hold meetings and parties - similar to Google and Facebook campuses in the Valley.

The new and expanded cluster, expected to be completed by end this year, will double the startup community size in one-north to over 500 startups and 2,000 entrepreneurs.

Future development plans in the area could also potentially enlarge the community to 800 startups and 3,200 entrepreneurs, said Mr Teo at the launch.

Nine companies, among them Exploit Technologies, Joyful Frog Digital Incubator, SingTel Innov8 Ventures and NUS Enterprise, have expressed interest to be part of LaunchPad.

"LaunchPad complements the previous efforts of Block 71, as current tenants will be able to meet and partner new companies with innovative ideas and technologies," Lily Chan, chief executive officer of NUS Enterprise, told The Business Times. NUS Enterprise is currently an anchor tenant at Block 71.

Chrissy Lim, fellow tenant and founder of interactive learning solutions startup Paperplane, agreed: "Having both mentorship in the form of incubators and fellowship with other founders in the same boat will help enormously. It's like one big support group - the more the merrier!"

But more can be done to make LaunchPad more communal, and with increased opportunities for collision and interaction, said Jeffrey Paine, co-founder of startup training firm Battle Ventures.

Converting one to four whole floors into incubation spaces, installing a shared main entrance, and building a hostel, day care centre or gym indoors are some of his suggestions.

He also noted that firms may be less keen to move to LaunchPad because of its non-centralised location.

For incubator AccelerAsia, which currently operates from a shophouse in Amoy Street, it was more a strategic reason not to move.

"We mostly work with startups based in Europe, the US and Israel, so there is less of a need for us to be located in the startup cluster," said Arnout Mostert, partner at AccelerAsia.

In fact, critical to the success of LaunchPad is the sustained interest of Singaporean youths to undertake entrepreneurship, said Dr Chan. And this, she added, is something that currently still requires the support of the government.

-By Jacquelyn Cheok

Largest warehouse retail mall to open in Q4

Source: Straits Times

Singapore's largest warehouse retail mall is set to open in Jurong East by the fourth quarter of this year after earlier delays. The $320 million mall will be the first here to feature a drive- through option for shoppers to pick up goods ordered online.

Giant retail warehouse Big Box to open near Jurong East MRT

Source: Channel News Asia / Singapore

SINGAPORE: Singapore's largest retail warehouse store is set to open in the fourth quarter of this year, adding to developments that have sprung up around Jurong East MRT station.

Big Box will have some 400,000 square feet of shopping space, featuring brands such as Akira, Mod Living, Castilla, Barang Barang and Novena.

The services include a drive-through service that allows shoppers to place orders in advance before driving down to collect the items.

Overall, the eight-storey complex will have approximately 1.3 million square feet of space including warehouses and logistic facilities.

Jurong East is fast becoming a major suburban hub.

Several malls have opened recently, including JEM and Westgate, and residents will soon benefit from new offices as well as the upcoming 700-bed Ng Teng Fong General Hospital.

Big Box's main shareholder is Singapore mainboard-listed TT International, which owns 51 per cent of the complex. 

- CNA/gn

TTI clears hurdles, bringing Big Box nearer the finishing line

Source: Business Times / Companies

AFTER several false starts and a quiet 2013, Singapore-listed TT International (TTI) was finally ready to unveil details of its flagship retail store Big Box at Jurong East.

The project, where construction is now 80 per cent done, will become Singapore's largest retail warehouse store when it opens its doors in the final quarter of the year.

If it turns into a "roaring success" as Big Box's chief executive Wong Ah Long confidently puts it, the business could prove to be the lynchpin of TTI's turnaround story.

The mega eight-storey project - next to Jurong East MRT station and bus interchange - which cost $320 million to build, spans 5.6 hectares of land and will have about 1.3 million square feet.

-By Anita Gabriel

Design sector to get grants, tax incentives

Govt support for food services, retail, infocomm industries

Source: Business Times / Singapore

IT is no secret that Singaporeans love to eat, shop and are constantly staying connected, using technology wherever they are.

With this in mind, the government, through the DesignSingapore Council, will help the food services, retail and infocomm sectors to step up their design capabilities over the next three years by giving businesses in these sectors support through design-adoption grants and tax incentives.

This was announced by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Tharman Shanmugaratnam at the opening of the National Design Centre (NDC) last night.

He said support will be extended to designers and design companies to cultivate design excellence, build capabilities in new and emerging areas of design such as service design, interaction design and design management, and to venture into overseas markets.

-By Tay Suan Chiang

Govt to enhance design capabilities in various sectors

Source: Channel News Asia / Singapore

SINGAPORE: The government will enhance design capabilities in the food, retail and infocomm services sectors. It will support businesses in these sectors with grants and tax incentives.

Speaking at the launch of the National Design Centre on Wednesday evening, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said: "The value design brings extends far beyond the designers and the design sector itself.

"Across a whole range of industries and sectors, design thinking, and attention to design, is becoming a decisive competitive advantage.

"And like in the advanced economies, businesses' response to a world of low-cost, commoditised products and a higher cost operating environment... and businesses' response to that, has to lie in innovating, differentiating themselves, and offering higher value to their customers."

The National Design Centre is a hub where designers, enterprises and the public can gather to exchange ideas and conduct business.

The centre houses the DesignSingapore Council, a cluster of design companies, prototyping and tinkering labs, as well as a design store.

The national agency for design, DesignSingapore Council, oversees the programming for the centre.

To enable designers to better support these sectors, the DesignSingapore Council will also train designers and design companies in the emerging areas of service design, interaction design and design management.

- CNA/ac

Far East unit wins Sentosa hotel site tender

484,400 sq ft site has been gazetted for conservation

Source: Business Times / Property

SENTOSA Development Corporation (SDC) has awarded a 60-year leasehold hotel site tender on the resort island to Far East Organization Centre, a member of Far East Organization (FEO).

The tender is for the development of a cluster of conserved buildings and their repurposing as hotels.

The site on Artillery Avenue, formerly a military parade square with six blocks of barracks, has been gazetted for conservation, which means that FEO has to adhere to heritage and conservation requirements when developing the site.

FEO is planning a hospitality product named The Outpost, which will integrate two hotels with 700 rooms in total.

-By Lee Meixian

Far East Organization to build hotel on Sentosa

Source: Today Online / Business

SINGAPORE – Far East Organization has won the tender for a hotel site at Sentosa.

The 60-year leasehold site at Artillery Avenue is situated on elevated ground and overlooks Palawan Beach.

According to Sentosa Development Corporation, Far East will pay an upfront land premium of S$32 million.

In addition, it will pay S$3.7 million annually, or 10 per cent of the total annual gross revenue, whichever is higher.

The site has an area of about 45,000 square metres and was once a military parade square.

It includes six blocks of barracks and a coach park.

The development -- to be named The Outpost -- will be the fourth hotel on Sentosa that has been repurposed from its cluster of conserved buildings.

Upon completion in 2018, it will bring the total number of room keys on Sentosa to 3,800.

-By Channel NewsAsia

GIC sees opportunities in developing markets

It likes investments in alternative assets; expects short-term volatility

Source: Business Times / Companies

THERE are investing opportunities in the developing markets, even amid the wave of political uncertainties, said Lim Chow Kiat, group chief investment officer at the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC).

"We are able to find, on a bottom-up basis, significant opportunities," said Mr Lim during a panel discussion at a conference, noting the "significant price discounts" in many pockets of the developing world.

"In the developing countries, especially the bigger ones, there are still many of these supply-side trends going on. You see industry consolidation, you see the penetration rate for certain products continue to increase. Many companies in these developing countries continue to benefit from these trends, despite political uncertainties."

This is in contrast to the developed markets' equities space, where there are some sectors with "big multiple expansions", raising questions over sustainability, he said.

-By Jamie Lee

Real Estate Companies' Brief

Yoma Strategic Holdings

Source: Business Times / Singapore Markets

March 12 close: S$0.725

CIMB Research, March 11

YOMA's management announced a number of developments: 1) Yoma will partner with Dulwich College International and Harrow International Management Services to develop two international schools at its real-estate developments - Star City and PHGE (Pun Hlaing Golf Estate); 2) the group will launch a real-estate development comprising 90 residential units and 20,000 sq ft of commercial leasing space at FMI City; and 3) Yoma proposed a partnership with International Financial Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank Group, for four businesses - coffee plantation (joint venture with ED&F Man), dairy production, agricultural cold chain business (JV with Kokubu) and commercial vehicle leasing.

Views, Reviews & Forum

Growing the economy the smart way

Source: Today Online / Commentary 

Most media attention on the recent Budget 2014 has been on the generous Pioneer Generation Package.

While that is a well-intentioned and sizeable initiative, the longer-term narrative remains one focused on restructuring the economy and how we need to move from Budget initiatives to actual impact on the economy.

The Singapore economy seems to be firing on all cylinders — rents are up, we are effectively at full employment and we continue to run a strong dollar.

However, we showed only a nominal 4.1 per cent growth last year. With the exception of the rebound year of 2010, our growth since the global financial crisis has been volatile and lower compared with the immediate pre-crisis period.

Wages in the middle- and lower-income ranges are picking up, but continued inflation eats into purchasing power. So the picture of our economic performance is mixed.


Singaporeans have been inundated with the morality tale that we need to be more productive. Being more productive is not about working longer. It is fundamentally about being more efficient — producing more output per unit of factor input, in particular that of labour.

Productivity does not exist in its own state; it is a derivative of both a powerful economic motive — competition — and an economic enabler — innovation. The focus of economic planning should be foremost, not on trying to stimulate the symptom — productivity — but on the trigger factors — competition and innovation.

Businesses, especially small and medium enterprises, may complain that competition is stiff. Rather than assume that this is so, we should consider such feedback as an inversely correlated performance indicator for the economy.

In other words, more such feedback is better for the economy, not worse. Only when competitive pressure is present will businesses find ways to be more efficient. They would also be forced to seek risk and be growth orientated. Standing still is not an option in a competitive space.

We should be on guard to disrupt cartel-like behaviour or anti-competitive cooperative behaviour in niche market segments. Anti-competitive behaviour leads to inefficient allocation of resources, stifled innovation, false economic signals and disequilibrium prices for the consumer.

Improvements in processes may yield marginal gains in efficiency. Only innovation can provide the order of magnitude gains to give a firm sustained competitive advantage. Firms should be pushing the envelope in innovation, rather than playing it safe.

Our heavy investments through the Research, Innovation and Enterprise (RIE) scheme, far exceeding S$5 billion to date, should also be focused on commercialisation of innovative discoveries. While doing fundamental science can be meaningful, it must be commercially translatable for the return on tax dollar to be realised and the opportunity cost of such large commitments justified.


Vital as policy planners or regulators’ contributions are, the real economic heroes are entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs come up with new ideas, spot market gaps, develop solutions and take risks to make their dreams happen. The attrition rate among new firms is very high. Hence, entrepreneurs are not only resourceful, but resilient. It is on the back of hundreds of failed projects that we can build up the successful projects that create jobs and push the production frontier outwards.

As consumers, we may enjoy the flowering in recent years of a myriad of food and beverage (F&B) outlets of every description and price point. But they are low value-added and labour-intensive — the worst combination of economic activity.

Another phenomenon often mistaken for a sign of economic well-being is the property sector. An even poorer allocation of scarce labour than a bloated F&B sector is the real estate sector. Thousands of real estate agents toil to help rotate capital, but create nothing of lasting value to the economy. The investment in their education and skills in other areas — most agents are not by original training property specialists — is also largely wasted.

High property prices and a large volume of sales are symptomatic of a mismatch in demand and supply and speculative behaviour, but are not in themselves sources of underlying economic growth.

What we need more of are not bars but stars — high value-added (VA) and capital-intensive enterprises. These are to be found in sectors such as financial services and technology. Only growth of such high VA sectors will create well-paying and professionally upwardly mobile jobs.

In this Budget, it was encouraging to see the shotgun approach of providing financial support to firms through the Productivity and Innovation Credit or PIC, supplemented by a targeted Information and Communications Technology for Productivity and Growth (IPG). The IPG is significant because it rewards firms for adopting or piloting new technology, which can be catalytic for innovation and longer-term economic value-capture.


Our economy is no longer capable of Pareto growth — where expansion of any one sector has no negative consequences on the rest of the economy. With a soured public appetite for aggressive population augmentation, we cannot only grow — we have to grow smarter.

As a non-Pareto economy, we should continue to take corrective policy action to tighten labour supply in the S-Pass and Work Permit categories to force upwards labour productivity, even at the expense of individual firms that cannot adapt.

Conversely, we should keep a keen eye to ensure that the talent flow into high value-added sectors continues to flow. Singaporeans have to come to terms with the correlation between international labour competition and higher wages.

A future of slow growth is not something to welcome. It means fewer jobs and marginal improvements to our standard of living. There is no such thing as prosperity without growth. Only when we have the growth can we have the fiscal space to afford the social investments that will redress the imbalances and inequities that have crept in with past growth.

If we value the modern affluent Singapore — imperfect as it may be — that we live in today, then we have to fight hard to keep it renewed and refreshed.

-By Devadas Krishnadas

Social impact of solo households

Source: Straits Times

It should come as no surprise that the latest Population Trends data shows a rising curve of Singaporeans living alone. The higher the population density, the greater seems to be the craving for personal space. Whether it is happening from force of circumstance or out of choice, the sociological impact either way calls for long-range studies to address needs and assess the change that will be wrought on society.

Revised HDB resale process will cause uncertainty

Source: Today Online / Voices

The revised Housing and Development Board resale procedures will create uncertainty rather than stability (“HDB resale: Parties must agree on price before valuation”; March 11).

First, the new practice requires a seller and buyer to negotiate the price based on daily, published transacted prices. How should they proceed, though, if there is no comparable data for negotiation?

It is like entering a market without knowing the price of the goods one wants to buy, negotiating blindly and hoping to agree on a price. This creates unnecessary anxiety for both parties.

Second, a buyer must now obtain the valuation report after the option-to-purchase is signed. If he realises that the negotiated price is way above valuation, he can withdraw from the deal, but it will mean forfeiting his deposit. Or, to avoid the forfeiture, he would have to pay a price above the valuation.

-By Tai Chee Keong

New HDB rules do not change resale market

Source: Today Online / Voices

The National Development Ministry has announced new procedures for the Housing and Development Board resale market (“HDB resale: Parties must agree on price before valuation”; March 11).

The reasons given were: To focus negotiation on price instead of cash-over-valuation (COV) and to put the process in line with that of the private property market. The state of the market was also taken into consideration.

But this does not change the resale market or even prevent the existence of COV. It merely shifts the valuation report to a later stage and, perhaps, avoids the situation of sellers requesting for a new valuation.

Buyers and sellers can still call any HDB-appointed valuer and request for an indicative valuation. However, the valuer may not be the one who does the report. Seasoned property salespeople can also advise buyers and sellers on the value. It really depends on whether buyers and sellers want to use the published HDB prices, an indicative valuation or a salesperson’s advice.

This practice of requesting for a valuation report after an option has been granted in the private property market has mostly seen valuers matching the agreed price. If the same were to happen in the HDB resale market, it would serve only to stop the slide in prices and mask the visibility of COVs.

-By Lee Sze Teck

Be cautious with new rules on flats

Source: Straits Times

We should tread with caution in the move to make cash over valuations (COVs) take a back seat in Housing Board resale deals, and in the introduction of a new reverse mortgage scheme ("Deals not decided on COV under new HDB resale rules" and "Focus on meeting housing needs of seniors, needy folk"; both published on Tuesday).

Global Economy & Global Real Estate

Extended-stay hotels take off in Manhattan

Softening rents, changes in hiring practices fuel rise in short-term housing

Source: Business Times / Property

[NEW YORK] A fast-growing class of properties in New York is encouraging people not only to visit, but to stay awhile.

Known as extended-stay, corporate or short-term housing, these units have proliferated in recent years across Manhattan, both in buildings dedicated solely to this function and scattered inside existing rentals and condos.

A cross between hotel rooms and apartments, these furnished dwellings usually contain dishwashers and dining tables, like typical homes, but a tenant does not have to sign a full-year lease.

Part of the uptick in supply can be explained by softening rents that are prompting landlords to search for alternate ways of filling units, analysts said. But they added that fundamental changes in hiring practices - businesses choosing temporary workers over full-time ones - are also having a major influence.

-From New York, US

Lend Lease shares fall as Sydney site fire halts work

Source: Business Times / Property

[SYDNEY] Lend Lease Group, Australia's biggest listed property developer, fell by the most in two weeks after a fire forced work to halt at its A$6 billion (S$6.8 billion) Barangaroo South development on Sydney's harbour.

A fire started at about 2 pm local time in the basement at the southern end of the site, possibly destabilising a crane and prompting the area to be evacuated, according to the company and emergency services. The shares slid 2.6 per cent to end the day at A$11.31, the biggest decline since Feb 26.

"There are concerns that if the fire does continue to burn, it could possibly cause some structural issues" with the crane, Superintendent Ian Krimmer of Fire and Rescue New South Wales said in televised remarks to reporters. "There's no immediate threat of the crane coming down but we have to contain this fire."

The company is creating a financial precinct that will include three office towers, luxury apartments, a casino and hotel, and retail and dining facilities at Barangaroo. Yesterday's incident, at one of the two office buildings on which it has begun work, follows a crane fire in November 2012 at a construction site managed by the company at a Sydney university, and the collapse of a crane at a Lend Lease site in New York City during superstorm Sandy.

-From Sydney, Australia

Cash deposits revive Miami luxury condo market

Projects are funded with buyers' cash of as much as 60% of the purchase price

Source: Business Times / Property

[NEW YORK] Gil Dezer, a Miami-area developer, five years ago had 850 unsold condominiums on his hands and almost US$500 million in loans coming due as credit markets froze and buyers disappeared.

Today, he's back in the market with what he sees as a safer bet: a 132-unit luxury project for car enthusiasts called the Porsche Design Tower. Condos at the 60-storey building, featuring an elevator that transports cars directly into the homes, range from US$4.5 million to US$32.5 million for a 1,600-square-metre or 17,000-square-foot four-floor penthouse.

While the oceanfront tower's foundation is still being poured, 113 of its 132 units have sold. All buyers placed deposits of 30 per cent in cash - seed money Mr Dezer relied on to gauge interest in the project.

"We wanted to reconfigure and go after a buyer that is not as financially sensitive," said Mr Dezer, whose previous condos started at US$900,000.

-From New York, US

Prime office towers look good to investors looking for yield

Source: Business Times / Property

[SEATTLE] In a world devoid of yield, even the lowest-returning real estate is attracting new investors.

A unit of CBRE Group is investing US$200 million for a group of Asian insurers in core real estate - typically high-quality, well-leased buildings such as prime office towers, shopping centres and apartments.

Blackstone Group, the largest manager of high-return property funds, is expanding into the core business amid client demand. JPMorgan Chase & Co has a waiting list for investors to enter its US$21 billion US core fund, the country's biggest.

Investors flocked to the most stable real estate after the global credit meltdown in 2008 caused the collapse of several high-risk property fund managers that relied on debt financing, including Lehman Brothers and Goldman Sachs Group's Whitehall unit. While the increased demand may reduce returns, core buildings are now luring more international buyers seeking a haven and investors trying to hedge against inflation.

-From Seattle, US

China firm buys tallest residential tower site in Europe

Source: Business Times / Property

[LONDON] Chinese state-backed developer Greenland Group has snapped up the stalled site of Europe's tallest residential tower, in London's Canary Wharf financial district, after an earlier deal with an Irish property investor fell through.

The site on Canary Wharf's north-west corner was sold by Commercial Estates Group (CEG), which had permission to build a 242-metre tall building containing 700 homes, offices and shops.

Greenland yesterday said it had exchanged contracts with CEG to buy the Hertsmere site, which it expects to be worth £600 million (S$1.2 billion) when complete. The deal marks its second London acquisition in 2014, after it bought the site of the capital's oldest brewery in January.

"As one of the few tall tower sites in London, Hertsmere represents an excellent opportunity for Greenland to add a significant landmark to the London skyline," the companies said.

-From London, UK

NFL Teams’ Settlement Lets $2.9 Billion N.J. Mall Proceed

Source: Bloomberg / U.S. Politics

The New York Jets and Giants and developers of a $2.9 billion retail and entertainment complex next to the New Jersey stadium where the football teams play settled lawsuits that had halted the project, Governor Chris Christie said.

Developers of the project, dubbed the American Dream, said it would be the world’s biggest shopping mall, with 7.5 million square feet of space and 55 million visitors annually. Holdups over financing, property control, litigation and labor contracts had stalled the project, formerly known as Xanadu, which began more than a decade ago.

The two National Football League franchises, which combined to build the $1.6 billion stadium that opened at the Meadowlands sports complex site in 2010, had claimed game-day operation of the mall would generate overwhelming traffic. The developers counter-sued for obstruction of their plans.

The three-way agreement involving the developers, the teams and the state calls for “a variety of mass transit and traffic improvements” to complement a traffic and parking management plan, particularly on game days, according to a statement issued today by Christie’s office.

Project plans can proceed immediately, the governor said.

The project’s facade of multicolored rectangles fronting the New Jersey Turnpike in East Rutherford -- about 15 miles (24 kilometers) west of Manhattan -- once led Christie, a second-term Republican, to call it “the ugliest damn building in New Jersey, and maybe America.”

Football Suits

Developer Triple Five, owner of the Mall of America in Minnesota, agreed with Christie in December 2010 to take over the project. The Giants and Jets sued the developer and the state in 2012 and again in 2013.

The project will include an enclosed amusement park, indoor water park, theater and the only indoor ski hill in North America. It’s expected to generate more than 11,000 jobs and tens of millions of dollars in sales and payroll taxes for New Jersey as well as revenue for Bergen County towns, according to Christie, whose administration pledged $390 million in tax credits to the developer.

In a telephone interview, Alan Marcus, a spokesman for the developer, estimated the cost at $2.9 billion. He said he didn’t have an expected opening date, and he had no breakdown on how the costs of the traffic improvements will be split.

A spokeswoman for the teams, Karen Kessler of Evergreen Partners Inc. in Warren, New Jersey, didn’t immediately respond to a phone message seeking comment on the announcement.

Joint Statement

Kessler and Marcus, in a joint statement, confirmed the accord, acknowledging the Christie administration’s role in resolving the dispute “for the benefit of all concerned, particularly the residents of the state of New Jersey.”

The teams’ case is New Meadowlands Stadium Co. v. Triple Five Group Ltd., BER-C-156-13, Bergen County, New Jersey, Superior Court, Chancery Division. The developers’ case is Ameream LLC v. New York Football Giants Inc., Bergen County, New Jersey, Superior Court, Law Division (Hackensack).

-By Elise Young and Andrew Harris

Google Searches for Space in NYC’s Soho for Retail Store

Source: Bloomberg / Tech

Google Inc. (GOOG) has been prowling Manhattan’s Soho neighborhood in search of a location for its first stand-alone retail outlet, according to a local real estate broker.

The search-engine company, which has expanded its reach into smartphones, computerized eyewear and laptops, is considering leasing at 131 Greene St., said Faith Hope Consolo, chairman of the retail group at Douglas Elliman Real Estate. The property is around the corner from Apple Inc.’s first New York store, on Prince Street. Google may be looking at other locations as well, according to Consolo, who said she showed company representatives retail space elsewhere.

“Google has been looking in Soho for a long time,” she said in a telephone interview. “They want to be near Apple, and they’ve been concentrating on Greene Street. There are different streets that are in vogue, that have become hot, and it’s just now that Greene Street has become the street in Soho.”

Google, which has seen rivals Apple and Microsoft Corp. push into shopping malls across the country, is stepping up efforts to reach more consumers with its hardware and services. Late last year the Mountain View, California-based company opened showrooms in six U.S. cities to promote its latest products during the busy holiday season.

Leslie Miller, a spokeswoman for Google, declined to comment on a possible New York store.

Ascot Properties NYC controls 131 Greene, according to the company’s website. A call to Lucky Bhalla, a principal at Ascot, wasn’t immediately returned. Crain’s New York Business reported yesterday that Google was close to signing a lease at the building.

‘Downtown Vibe’

About 8,200 square feet (760 square meters) of store space is available to rent at 131 Greene, according to real estate website Propertyshark. Greene Street has attracted such luxury retailers as Tiffany & Co. and Louis Vuitton in a neighborhood that has seen steady growth in upscale shopping, Consolo said.

“Google has a downtown vibe anyway, but wherever they go it would be exciting,” she said. “I believe if they went to the middle of the river, people would go there, but why not be in the center of everything?”

Soho ground-floor retail rents increased 41 percent to an average of $762 a square foot in the 12 months through September, according to a report late last year by the Real Estate Board of New York. That was the highest of any shopping district south of Midtown.

-By David M. Levitt and Brian Womack

Lend Lease Drops as Fire Threatens Crane at A$6 Billion Site

Source: Bloomberg / News

Lend Lease Group, Australia’s biggest listed property developer, fell by the most in two weeks after a fire forced work to halt at its A$6 billion ($5.4 billion) Barangaroo South development on Sydney’s harbor.

A fire started at about 2 p.m. local time in the basement at the southern end of the site, possibly destabilizing a crane and prompting the area to be evacuated, according to the company and emergency services. The shares slid 2.6 percent to end the day at A$11.31 in Sydney, the biggest decline since Feb. 26.

“There are concerns that if the fire does continue to burn, it could possibly cause some structural issues” with the crane, Superintendent Ian Krimmer of Fire and Rescue New South Wales said in televised remarks to reporters. “There’s no immediate threat of the crane coming down but we have to contain this fire.”

The company is creating a financial precinct that will include three office towers, luxury apartments, a casino and hotel, and retail and dining facilities at Barangaroo. Today’s incident, at one of the two office buildings on which it’s begun work, follows a crane fire in November 2012 at a construction site managed by the company at a Sydney university, and the collapse of a crane at a Lend Lease site in New York City during superstorm Sandy.

The cause of the fire hasn’t yet been determined, Krimmer said. There have been no reports of injuries, he said. More than 100 firefighters are working in shifts of between five and 10 minutes to extinguish the fire, and hazardous materials teams are monitoring the water run-off for contaminants, he said.

The offices of KPMG LLP and Sussex Hotel nearby have been evacuated, he said. The closure of a nearby highway is causing major traffic delays in Sydney’s center, according to Transport for New South Wales.

Today’s share losses shrank Lend Lease’s price gains this year to 1.5 percent. The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index has risen 0.6 percent.

-By Nichola Saminather