Making the Grade

Management of the Vattanac Capital Tower, Phnom Penh’s newest and most iconic tower building, have hit back at suggestions that it is misrepresenting itself as offering Grade A office space.

Last month, Sharon Liew, CEO of real estate company Huttons CPL told the Phnom Penh Post that she had doubts about whether Vattanac was offering true Grade A office space: “The service standard is lacking. Currently, the only choice would be to set up in Vattanac … but even in Vattanac Capital Tower, for example, the aircon shuts down at 7pm. What if you have meetings until 10pm? Yet, this is a self-proclaimed Grade A office space.”

But Thavrith Lim, senior leasing manager at Vattanac Capital Tower rejected Liew’s claims. “We’re the only building in Phnom Penh that has been built to the highest international standards – we used TFP Farrells as designers, we used Arup for the architecture and Posco and Schindler [for the construction company] – all of the very highest international quality and standards.”

“In terms of the quality we provide to our tenants, we have great security, we have parking, we have a state-of-the-art fire system with sprinklers and alarms, we have ultra-fast lifts and we’re LEED Silver certified in terms of our impact on the environment.”

Lim admitted that the building’s air conditioning does indeed go off at 7pm, until the next morning. “We do shut down the air conditioning at 7pm, until 8am. In our experience with our current tenants, the building remains cool for at least another couple of hours after that. And if tenants want the air conditioning to stay on, it costs less than Cambodian electricity rates to keep it on.”

The grading of office space is somewhat more arbitrary and flexible than the casual observer might imagine. Ross Wheble of property company Knight Frank sums it up: “Each country or company will have slightly different grading systems – basically, you can generally grade a building based on its rent because the rental value is a reflection of all other factors.”

In the United States, the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) classifies office space into three categories: Class A, B and C.

According to BOMA, Class A office buildings are the “most prestigious buildings competing for premier office users with rents above average for the area.”

The association goes on to say that Class A facilities have “high quality standard finishes, state of the art systems, exceptional accessibility and a definite market presence.”

Wheble says that Vattanac Tower fits these criteria: “It’s in a prime location with high visibility and good accessibility, it’s LEED rated, generally has all the prerequisite specifications … and will also house the 5-star luxury Rosewood hotel.”

BOMA describes Class B office space as having rents around the average, with “adequate systems” and finishes that “are fair to good for the area.”

The association goes on to define Class C buildings as having “functional space at rents below the average for the area.” Some 63 per cent of Phnom Penh’s office space falls into this category, according to Knight Frank’s report on office space from 2015.

However, BOMA admits that “the lack of specifics allows considerable room for fudging the boundaries of the categories.”

Vattanac Tower’s space starts at around $28 per square metre, and goes up according to which floor it is located on. The current average office rental price across Phnom Penh is $18.63 per square metre.

Lim of Vattanac Tower says the property is definitely Grade A, but that the owners also wanted to go beyond that: “We are a company, and we want to make money. But we also want the world to see Cambodia in a new light, which is part of the reason we built this building – so that international customers would see that we can do things properly in Cambodia, with no worries about safety, the environment, things like that.”