The backers of an $80 million project to replace Phnom Penh’s iconic White Building with a new high-rise have failed to sway residents with promises of improved accommodation and soaring property values, according to a village representative.
During a meeting at the Ministry of Land Management on Tuesday, the government and Japanese-backed construction company Arakawa attempted to persuade residents to agree to their four-year plan to develop the White Building site.
But according to village representative Dy Sophannaramany, about 90 percent of residents simply want to be bought out.
The dilapidated, low-income housing block in Chamkar Mon district was built in 1963 under then-Prince Norodom Sihanouk and hosts hundreds of families and small businesses. In September 2014, however, it was condemned due to safety concerns.
Under a plan proposed late last month, Arakawa is to replace it with a 21-story complex, including five floors for those currently living on the site. The catch is years of temporary housing behind the Royal Phnom Penh Hospital, well outside the city’s center.
“Everyone will have a bigger space than before,” Land Management Minister Chea Sophara told the hundreds of residents. If residents were to sell now, he said, “the price would be from $60,000 to $70,000. Or you could sell it in four years at a price of $300,000.”
But the decision would require consensus, he added. “Everyone can choose whatever. It is up to everyone. I will follow your decision.”
Alex Yasumoto, chief executive officer of Arakawa, emphasized the company’s financial stability in an attempt to convince residents that the construction process would not be halted for a lack of financing, leaving them with empty promises.
“My company has enough assets to support this project and also I have some cash in hand,” he said. “Please trust his excellency, and also the government and also ourselves and also my company Arakawa. Please trust that we will make change—the new life for you.”
According to Ms. Sophannaramany, however, the residents were not convinced.
“We listened to the terms and conditions that the company told us. He described the money that he has and his project. As we listened, it sounded legitimate,” she said.
“However, we haven’t decided anything yet. We need to have a meeting in order to gather opinions from everyone.”
So far, about 90 percent of the 554 families have proposed compensation requests ranging from $70,000 to $100,000.