Bold Chess Moves at HarborView

June 17, 1994

Dato Tan Chin Nam, the Malaysia-based chairman of Far Eastern investors bankrolling Baltimore's HarborView, is the first one to admit that the $100 million condominium complex near Federal Hill has done poorly in its initial year.

"HarborView is bleeding," he said about the 248-unit condominium's abundance of unsold units.

An ordinary investor might move to cut his losses. But Mr. Dato Tan is no ordinary investor. He started with sugar refining before World War II and has amassed a fortune in real estate, retail and health-care operations that reach from Malaysia and Singapore to Australia and New Zealand.

"I have 10 fingers and HarborView is just one finger," he said.

Despite HarborView's problems, he ruled out a fire sale of unsold units. "There shall be no auction," he declared. Instead, he announced that HarborView will expand by adding a $50 million tower of 275 luxury rental units and a 250-space "boatel" facility for visiting boaters.

"We have a philosophy that when others walk, we run," the life-long chess enthusiast said of Parkway Holdings Ltd.'s decision to increase the stakes.

This kind of aggressiveness in adversity may be as unusual in today's America as Mr. Dato Tan's ability to finance an ambitious project like HarborView without a conventional mortgage. But there are limits to even Mr. Dato Tan's gambling and he is reaching those limits. "HarborView cannot be an endless bottomless pit," he said.

According to Mr. Dato Tan, postponing expansion at HarborView would have been "foolish." After all, the concrete foundation, including an underground parking garage, already is in place. Low costs are an additional factor pushing Mr. Dato Tan forward. "This is America, everything is cheap here," says the man who measures expenses according to Singapore and Hong Kong.

If everything goes according to plans, construction of the expansion should start within the next 10 months, said Richard A. Swirnow, president of HarborView Properties Development Co. A luxury nursing facility along Key Highway also continues to be a future option.

Many previous condominium buildings have been plagued by slow sales in Baltimore. Adding top-end rental apartments to HarborView gives its developers an entry to what has proven to be a steady and lucrative market. If the rental units are successful, they might even strengthen the complex's condominium sales.

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