HarborView's new sales tactic

June 16, 1994

Since September, when HarborView opened on the shorefront near Federal Hill, skeptics have been waiting for a foreclosure auction at the $100 million condominium tower. Yesterday, Dato Tan Chin Nam, the Malaysia-based chairman of investors bankrolling the project, made it clear they are waiting in vain. "There shall be no auction," he said.

Although most of HarborView's 248 units remain unsold, Mr. Dato Tan announced that he wants to move ahead and start construction on two more projects: a 275-unit, $50 million tower of rental apartments and a 250-space "boatel."

"It would be foolish for us not to do it," he said, pointing to the underground parking garage and concrete foundation in place.

"When others walk, we run," is how he explains Parkway Holdings Ltd.'s investment philosophy of taking advantage of untapped opportunities. "This is America. Everything is cheap here."

Unlike most American builders, Mr. Dato Tan's investors do not have a traditional mortgage. For that reason, they are not preoccupied by an instant profit, as long as they make money in the long run.

Although many condominium projects have run into financial trouble in Baltimore, a city of rowhouses, Mr. Dato Tan is convinced that condominiums are a wave of the future. They are a prevalent mode of living in big Southeast Asian cities. "That is the lifestyle," he says. "We are 10-15 years ahead [of America] in our area."

HarborView's new tactic is to be flexible. It still hopes to sell the condominium units in the flagship building. But it will be willing to let would-be buyers try out the lifestyle in a lease-with-an-option-to-buy program. The second building, a 15-story tower to be started within the next 10 months, will house rental units exclusively.

We are fascinated by Mr. Dato Tan's continuing willingness to increase his stake in what many local real estate experts still call a gamble. At the same time, the luxury rental market may be the niche where HarborView, with its location and amenities, will do well.

When Mr. Dato Tan views the Inner Harbor and downtown Baltimore from HarborView, he sees long-term opportunities.

"Believe you me," he says. "As day follows night, urban living will come back." His optimism is as intriguing as his ability to insulate the financing of his projects from the pressures most private American builders would face.

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