Tolly tram plot turns realty gold mine
The Bengal government has landed a Rs 181-crore deal for the four-acre Tollygunge tram depot in the middle of a real estate slump. The sale comes after three unsuccessful attempts to encash this prime plot within tee-off distance of Tollygunge Club and the RCGC.
A consortium of the Belani and RDB groups, both Calcutta-based companies, has snapped up the land, located opposite the Tollygunge Metro station, to develop a residential project with a bit of retail thrown in.
"You have to be a little aggressive at times," Nandu Belani of the Belani Group of Companies, whose portfolio includes Hiland Park, told Metro.
For the state government, which hasn't yet found a buyer for a smaller plot in north Calcutta's Belgachhia, the sale marks a breakthrough.
"This price is the highest (bid so far for the tram company's land) and is extremely encouraging for all of us. We will soon release ads for other properties in Gariahat, Garia, Sarsuna and Thakurpukur," transport secretary Alapan Bandyopadhyay said. "And we will gear up again to sell the Belgachhia and Shyambazar tram depots."
The sale amount for the Tollygunge plot ranks among the top disclosed real estate transactions in recent times. Local real estate players called the deal a big positive given that demand for residential and commercial properties in Calcutta remains weak like in the rest of the country.
Merlin-Sureka and Shapoorji Pallonji had bid for the land with offers of Rs 150 crore and Rs 101 crore respectively.
"We hope to take possession in three months and start construction by the end of 2016 after the necessary sanctions (are acquired)," Belani said of the consortium's plans for its new Tollygunge acquisition.
Sources said the developers would slot the project at "premium end", shunning the lure of turning it into a high-end luxury project.
At Rs 181 crore, the land deal trails the Rs 276.2 crore that LIC had paid in 2007 for a plot of land on the Bypass. The previous year, Emaar MGF had paid Rs 213 crore for 6.33 acres on the Bypass at the rate of Rs 33.64 crore an acre.
The world has changed since and so has real estate. A back-of-the-envelope calculation shows that the proposed Tollygunge project by Belani and RDB would have an FAR (floor area ratio) cost of Rs 3,400 per square foot. The FAR indicates how much built-up area a developer can have on a plot of land. Add to it the cost of construction and interest and the cost to the developer could be in the range of Rs 6,500-7,000 per square foot.
This, of course, would still be less than a couple of high-end Calcutta projects in different stages of construction. "The deal is certainly a sentiment booster for the Calcutta realty market," said Jitendra Khaitan, chairman and managing director of Pioneer Properties, a city-based consultancy.
In February 2014, the state government had sold 49.16 cottahs - 60 cottahs make an acre -spread across three tram depots at Galiff Street, Kalighat and Kidderpore to CESC for Rs 27.33 crore.
The government thereafter came out with less stringent rules on FAR, which gives the Tollygunge tram depot plot 15 per cent more floor area by virtue of being within 500 metres of the Metro corridor.
After the change in building rules, the transport department had worked closely with consulting firm KPMG and legal consultant Fox Mandal to hardsell two of the Calcutta Tramways Corporation (CTC)'s prime properties - the one in Tollygunge and the other in Belgachhia. The team had visited Navi Mumbai and Bangalore to understand how vertical expansion was being managed in those cities.
Unlike other CTC properties where a bus or tram a depot exists, Tollygunge is free of any such challenges, making it a proposition worth grabbing.
Belani said location was the clincher. The property being along the Metro corridor gives its developers the opportunity to milk the new FAR rule.
While the Tollygunge property - with two golf clubs on either side of the Deshpran Sashmal Road - always had takers, the bid for 52 cottahs in Belgachhia fell through with two parties quoting below the reserve price. Sources said the angular shape of the land was a deterrent.
In October 2013, the government had announced its decision to unlock 373 cottahs of "surplus land" in six depots of the CTC. Bids were invited for a 99-year lease, renewable for a similar period. With no big company showing interest in the first round, the government was forced to ease its terms and conditions.
Transport department insiders said a part of the money from the Tollygunge deal would be used to fund the voluntary retirement scheme (VRS) for a section of CTC employees. The company has already used a part of the money earned from the land sale to CESC to pay VRS dues to 147 employees.