May 9, 2014 4:07 pm JST

Thai Central opens 'ultra-luxury mall' amid political crisis

YUKAKO ONO, Nikkei staff writer

Hundreds of high-society guests attended the opening ceremony of Central Embassy in Bangkok on May 8.

BANGKOK -- Thailand's largest retailer, Central Group, on Friday opened its flagship shopping complex, Central Embassy, amid heightened tensions as the capital braces for large-scale anti-government protests.

     The 18 billion baht ($553 million) project is the biggest investment ever per square meter in the Southeast Asian country. The "ultra-luxury shopping mall," as Central calls it, houses more than 200 brands, including Chanel, Gucci, Hermes and Prada.

     The opening ceremony Thursday evening came just a day after Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was removed from office following a ruling by the nation's constitutional court that she had abused her position by transferring a top security official. Still, hundreds of well-dressed Thais flocked to the event at the mall, where an orchestra performed a piece especially composed for the facility.

     CEO Toss Chirathivat appeared happy as he posed for pictures with his guests. The company hopes to attract 50,000 to 60,000 consumers per day.

     The start of the massive project dates back to seven years ago. In fact, the opening was originally slated for late 2013 but was delayed to February this year due to anti-government demonstrations in Bangkok last October. It was delayed again to May as the political crisis dragged on.

     The mall is built on a 144,000 sq. meter site that the Thai group acquired from the British Embassy for 6 billion baht. It is located in the Ploenchit district, which many foreign embassies and luxury hotels call home. The building, resembling the curvy shape of an infinity mark, is 37 stories high and 200 meters wide.

     On Friday, the lower seven floors were opened to the public. The upper levels, which will be occupied by a Park Hyatt Hotel, are expected to start operations by early next year.