Once upon a time they used to make ice palams here. The older generation will remember using the forefinger to push and get at the ice pop as it melted all over your hand. Sweet yet messy. Those long-forgotten memories flit back as Suresh Rajendra, Nayana Mawilmada and Nadeem Shums – the troika in charge [...]

Business Times

Bringing life to the city


Once upon a time they used to make ice palams here. The older generation will remember using the forefinger to push and get at the ice pop as it melted all over your hand. Sweet yet messy.

Artist's impression of Cinnamon Life on completion. Pix by Indika Handuwala.

Those long-forgotten memories flit back as Suresh Rajendra, Nayana Mawilmada and Nadeem Shums – the troika in charge of property at the John Keells Group – show me around the site of what is expected to be Colombo’s most iconic building, one that you will either love or hate at first sight.

The former Elephant House factory and bottling plant in Slave Island is a hive of activity as we walk around Cinnamon Life, the largest private sector investment project in Sri Lanka valued at US$850 million.

“Our project has been the driving force behind Colombo’s changing landscape,” says a proud Rajendra, President, Property Group at John Keells. “If you look at it as a Sri Lankan investment it is a powerful statement we are making on the local economy and the optimism we have on the future of the economy. This is a long-term outlook, a game changer, a catalyst for change.”

Cinnamon Life is a mixed development and upon completion, by 2020, will include an 800-room, 5-Star Cinnamon Hotel, residential towers, office spaces, shopping malls, convention halls and entertainment facilities.

“It will be a city within a city,” says Mawilmada, an urban development specialist who was formerly head of investments with the government’s Megapolis project. Shums adds: “You can live, work and play without having to leave Cinnamon Life”.

The one-stop shop for a vibrant lifestyle is set to strengthen Colombo’s position as a hub for travel, business and entertainment. Originally the plan was to include a casino but that has been shelved – due to a turnaround in government policy – and instead the focus will be on making it a premier MICE stopover.

“Gone are the sun-sea-sand kind of tourism, people want more and it has to be packaged properly,” says Rajendra. “Look at the biggest tourist market, China, which is one mid-range flight away. It is a huge market with more than 100 million people moving out of China (annually), and then there is India. It’s all about positioning ourselves, having the room capacity as well as the other infrastructure, in place.”

Ready by 2020

The project is set to be completed in 2020. A 10-month delay in piling – water from the Beira Lake seeped in when the foundation was being laid – pushed back the original schedule by about a year and Rajendra was quite candid in his assessment believing they would not be able to catch up on lost time.

Long unfinished corridors

You will either love the design or hate it, but one thing will be assured, it will be eye-catching thanks to Sri Lankan-born architect Cecil Balmond who was commissioned to create an “iconic” structure. After a site-visit he drew a quick sketch on a napkin while at lunch with JKH bigwigs and showed them his vision of a structure mirroring the lake. They loved it.

“It’s a no-limits project and has a high-powered agenda in terms of entertainment, residential accommodation, retail centres and a fabulous hotel,” Balmond reveals. “It will have an X-factor and create a benchmark or quality providing an interesting experience for the visitor as well as the person who lives there.

The shape is bold and the backdrop of the sea and the Beira Lake will add another dimension to the development which apart from comprising the largest hotel in Colombo will also boast of two residential towers totaling 427 apartments – The Residence (45-storey) and The Suites (39-storey) – with prices ranging from $400,000 to $2.2 million (penthouses).

The hotel has a “scalloped form reflecting the Beira Lake” according to Balmond who has mixed functionalism with ambition in creating a “guardstone for the city of Colombo”.

“But this will be more than just the structure, which is just one part of it, for there will be a ‘Wow’ factor with the whole lifestyle experience happening around it. This will be the centre of Colombo, an iconic landmark for the city,” Rajendra points out.

As it is, the Cinnamon brand boasts the most number of hotel rooms in the city with 500 at Cinnamon Grand, 325 at Cinnamon Lake and 220 at Cinnamon Red. Cinnamon Life and its 800 rooms will augment JKH’s position as the largest hotel operator.

Apart from an attention-grabbing façade the hotel will also have two cantilevers suspended which will add to the uniqueness. There will be function halls and rooms within these structures.

“Our project is at the core of all the high-density development taking place in Colombo. This was the catalyst. JKH went in when no one else dared to tread, and Cinnamon Life is at the very heart of it and through its architecture it will be fundamentally different,” Rajendra commented.

“This will become the new hub and with the UDA (Urban Development Authority) cleaning up the Beira, this building will liven up the whole area. Slave Island wasn’t a place you would visit but in a few years, this will be an entertainment hub. The fact that we put our neck forward inspired so many and will continue to inspire,” adds Mawilmada.

Suresh Rajendra

Singapore-like city

The area surrounding Cinnamon Life will be transformed into a Singapore-like Clarke quay with open promenades and al fresco dining. Many people believe this will be the plum address in town with Shums revealing that almost 60 per cent of the floor space has already been sold.

“This underlines the faith people have in our company,” says a proud Rajendra who points to JKH’s proven track record with other older residential developments like Monarch and Emperor apartments as well as the newer 7th Sense down Gregory’s Road.

“But in this project, the residential component is very small, around 30 per cent, the hotel and the mall will dominate the development,” stressed Rajendra.

Office space will be much sought after. A 30-storey dedicated office tower with world-class design will offer 11,000 square-foot of usable area on each floor. But it pales in comparison to the total size of the entire project which will span 4.5 million square-feet.

Live, work and play are the catchwords for Cinnamon Life. Sweet, just like those ice palams from days gone by.


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