Skyscraper Is Planned for Phnom Penh

Canadia Bank unveiled plans Thursday to erect a 24-story office building that will eclipse the Hotel Inter-Continental as Phnom Penh’s tallest building.

Chinese builder CITIC Inter­national Contracting will pay for the estimated $15 million building. It is expected to be built at the intersection of Monivong and Russian boulevards in front of the railroad station on land owned by Canadia Bank, Pung Kheav Se, Canadia’s CEO, said Thursday.

“Cambodia’s investment environment will become better and foreign investors will have more confidence in Cambodia,” Pung Kheav Se said.

CITIC and Canadia signed a memorandum of understanding to construct the Overseas Cambo­dian Investment Corporation building during Prime Minister Hun Sen’s visit to China in April.

Hun Sen has championed the construction of skyscrapers in Phnom Penh, saying in January that Cambodia needs to “competitively run up to the sky.”

Others are more skeptical, saying Cambodia has greater concerns than erecting taller buildings.

Canadia expects construction on the OCIC building, which is currently being designed, to start in 2005 and finish by the end of 2006. The bank plans to use half of the 40,000 square meters of office space. The rest will be rented out.

“I think in the next two years we will fill all the office space,” said Yee Con Long, senior manager at Canadia. “Lots of international companies are currently in villas. They need to move into a proper office.”

The new building will boost Cambodia’s image among tourists and business representatives who visit Phnom Penh, said Jimmy Gao, president of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce in Cambodia.

“It’s good for international enterprises that want to enter the market,” he said. “Those companies are not likely to move into a villa.”

Asked whether a demand existed for more office space, Gao said, “Maybe not in this stage, but who know in two or three years?”

Phnom Penh municipality will not oppose the construction of the OCIC building, Penh Sakhoeun, City Hall’s planning department director, said Thursday.

“We all believe in the strategy of Samdech Hun Sen,” he said.

Others were not so sure.

Opposition lawmaker Keo Remy welcomed skyscrapers, but not in the heart of Phnom Penh.

“It looks ugly to have only one tall building in a town like this,” he said. “I think we should keep Phnom Penh as an old town, a heritage town.”

The new building will also bring more traffic and environmental problems, he said.

“If there is a high building outside of Phnom Penh it will give more jobs to the people and it will be a way to avoid having migrant workers come into the city,” Keo Remy said.

Renowned Cambodian architect Vann Molyvann, who designed Olympic Stadium, Independence Monument and the National Cultural Center, feared that Phnom Penh would turn into Bangkok, which saw its many skyscrapers deserted after the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s.

“After 10 years in Bangkok, the skyscrapers had no renters,” he said.

The government should be more concerned with setting up the proposed Khmer Rouge tribunal, entering the World Trade Organization and making sure the more than 200,000 mostly female garment workers still have jobs by the end of the year, Vann Molyvann said.

“It’s much more important to think about how to solve those problems than building skyscrapers,” he said.

In addition to releasing plans for its OCIC tower, Canadia also launched a Visa and automated teller machine card.

“These new products will certainly modernize the payment system in that it is more convenient and safe to carry, and less cash is needed to handle,” Chea Chanto, governor of the National Bank of Cambodia, said in a speech at the launch on Thursday.

Canadia has installed ATMs, which can spit out riel or dollars, in its Phnom Penh branches and plans to install them in businesses, factories, gas stations and embassies. The ATM cards can only be used by Canadia’s local clients, Yee Con Long said, though the bank plans to link up to the Cirrus ATM network near the end of the year, allowing foreign tourists to withdraw cash with ATM cards from their home countries.

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