Published on: 20-Jan-2020
Bugis Village and Bugis Street, Singapore's largest street market which in recent years has reported dwindling footfall, is getting a revamp.
From April 1, mall developer CapitaLand will take over the management of both after winning a joint tender for their integrated management, in a move announced by the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) on Wednesday (Jan 15).
As the new manager, CapitaLand on Thursday said that it will build on the old while celebrating the new, and it has plans to utilise the existing shophouses and spiral staircases, which are already popular photograph spots, to boost the Instagrammable profile of the area.
Jointly awarded by the SLA, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) and the Urban Redevelopment Authority, the award grants Singapore's biggest landlord an initial tenancy term of three years. It may then be renewed for a further two three-year terms, and a final one not extending beyond March 30, 2030.
The project has a proposed retail net lettable area of about 195,000 sq ft.
The bid was evaluated based on considerations such as the quality of the proposal in enhancing the vibrancy of the Bras Basah-Bugis precinct, price and the bidder's experience and track record, among other criteria.
Known among locals and tourists for its unique blend of independent retailers, juice stalls and kitschy souvenir shops, the Bugis Village and Bugis Street site is located near Bugis MRT station, and adjacent to malls like Bugis Junction and Bugis+, both of which are operated by CapitaLand.
Among the tentative proposals are installing colourful container boxes, creating open spaces which could serve as retail incubators for established brands and local start-ups, shared economy spaces such as co-living and co-working areas, and a Singaporean and South-east Asian hawker food hub.
CapitaLand added that it is also exploring a new link bridge connecting Bugis Street to Bugis+ to provide visitors with sheltered access from Bugis MRT station, a proven method that rejuvenated the Iluma of yesteryear, which was renamed Bugis+ after CapitaLand took over the mall.
A CapitaLand spokesman said the developer also hopes to restore the "eclectic old-world charm of Bugis Street".
"The Bugis Village and Bugis Street site is a quintessential part of Singapore's heritage... CapitaLand will be introducing a modern interpretation of Bugis' street market concept, while celebrating the iconic architecture of the shophouses.
"Together with curated retail concepts and public spaces... we will also explore hosting marquee events such as programmes, exhibitions and events celebrating heritage, youth and the arts community which are unique and distinct to the Bugis precinct," he said.
CapitaLand added that home-grown heritage brand names will be invited to launch experiential concept stores and cuisine unique to Bugis.
"Diners can learn about local favourites and try their hand at making these dishes on the spot or take home a piece of Singapore's food culture with products like laksa paste or bak kut teh soup packs," said the company.
But some shoppers and tenants contacted by The Straits Times were concerned that an experienced mall developer could lead to smaller shops being squeezed out from the area as rents and prices are raised. There were also concerns that the area could become just another cookie-cutter mall, given that CapitaLand already manages 22 malls in the country.
Civil servant Carol Yee, a shopper at Bugis Street, said "the prices of wares should be kept affordable".
"For example, a cup of fruit juice can be bought for $1, and two or three Singapore-themed T-shirts at $10. Once you demolish or destroy it, you can never get it back," the 61-year-old said.
Echoing Ms Yee's views, Secondary 4 student Poh Xiu Wen, 17, said: "I would visit the new Bugis Street, but if the prices are high, then I probably would not frequent it. It would be a place that I would visit just once in a while."
To allay concerns among current tenants, the company said that an overhaul of the market need not mean clearing out existing tenants if they are open to new ideas.
Its spokesman said: "We look forward to working with interested retailers, both existing and new, to bring in offerings that are in line with our positioning for the integrated Bugis Village and Bugis Street property."
More detailed plans for Bugis Street would be released at a later date, CapitaLand said.
At least one tenant, however, remains wary.
Mr Goh Thiam Kiong, manager of J.Queen, a fruit juice store that has been in Bugis Street for 18 years, said: "We are scared that they will chase us out."
He added: "We have been here for so long. Our prices are hard to find elsewhere in Singapore. Let's see whether there is a place left for us."
Existing tenants at Bugis Village and Bugis Street will be able to continue operating under CapitaLand for a year at the prevailing rent until March 31 next year.
Retail experts noted that Bugis Street has been unsustainable for a while now, having remained largely stagnant throughout the years.
They said CapitaLand's involvement could help make the area profitable again, despite the challenges the developer could face when managing tenant profiles that are quite different from the more well-known brands it is used to.
Said Mr Amos Tan, a marketing and retail lecturer at Singapore Polytechnic: "Before CapitaLand, the stalls at Bugis Street could only rely on themselves to turn profits. But CapitaLand, with its resources, could focus on common needs like advertising, communication and marketing, which could make the area more vibrant and profitable."
Ms Esther Ho, director of Nanyang Polytechnic's School of Business Management, said there is "definitely potential for street markets in Singapore".
"People already travel to nearby (cities overseas) like Bangkok for their street markets. CapitaLand has shown itself to be quite good at adapting to new circumstances. The challenge will be in allowing Bugis Street to not just attract people here but also to compete regionally," she said.
CapitaLand will probably target tourists and young people with its new ideas, said Ms Sulian Tan-Wijaya, executive director of retail and lifestyle at Savills Singapore, which provides real estate services.
She suggested that the current mix of retail and food and beverage offerings be kept, and that "sheltered and weather-friendly outdoor spaces" are especially important for open-air markets like Bugis Street.
CapitaLand could consider bringing in more street buskers and artisanal craft shops, said Dr Lynda Wee, an adjunct association professor at Nanyang Technological University's business school. It should "de-emphasise retail and create a community instead", after which "retail will happen", she said.
Mr Keith Tan, STB chief executive, said that the Bugis Village and Bugis Street site "is a key landmark in the Bras Basah-Bugis precinct".
"The new ideas and concepts by CapitaLand will enhance the street market concept and make the entire district more vibrant and interesting for locals and tourists. This supports the Government's ongoing efforts to rejuvenate various areas in Singapore," he added.
CapitaLand's plans for the area are subject to change and pending authority approval.
Mr Ronald Tay, chief executive officer of CapitaLand Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia for residential and retail business, said the addition of Bugis Village and Bugis Street will raise the company's retail net lettable area in the precinct to over 800,000 sq ft, enabling it to scale up cross-marketing opportunities.
Source: The Straits Times, 16 January 2020
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