Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Grand plans to rejuvenate Singapore River quays

Straits Times: Tue, Aug 21

SINGAPORE River One (SRO), the new organisation set up last week to oversee the promotion of the Singapore River, has a grand - and ambitious - vision.

To make the historical area more popular with visitors, it wants to improve the connectivity of the three riverfront quays - Boat Quay, Clarke Quay and Robertson Quay - and in so doing, hold joint promotions and other large-scale events.

"We want to keep the character of each of the areas and supplement what they are doing to promote the area as one," said SRO executive director Ty Tabing.

The group was formed by the area's business owners to develop and promote the Singapore River, which is up against other hot spots such as Orchard Road and Marina Bay Sands. It is supported financially by the Urban Redevelopment Authority.

Latest available data from the Singapore Tourism Board showed that in 2009, only 18 per cent of tourists visited the Singapore River, compared with 49 per cent who went to Orchard Road.

Last week, a Straits Times check with 30 eateries along the river found several which said they were struggling, and hoped the SRO would help them turn their businesses around.

Many proposed organising street fairs and having buskers to liven up the area's atmosphere.

Ms Koon Si Eu, an operations manager at Smitten Cafe at Robertson Quay, said: "They should have a flea market or some sort of similar activities to attract the youngsters."

But foremost on Mr Tabing's mind is something more plain: How to get visitors to the river to visit all three quays.

He said that while the three areas are connected by underpasses, there is no incentive to use them.

"People tend to stay in one area. We need to get bankers who go for after-work drinks at Boat Quay to go to Clarke Quay for dinner," he said.

One way is to spruce up the underpasses, which he described as "dated". Its empty walls could be turned into canvasses for street art, for example, he said.

Another way was to get river taxis to ply more routes. Already, two operators have been given the green light to provide rides from Jiak Kim Street to the Marina Barrage starting next year, Mr Tabing said.

The SRO now has about 20 members. Improvements aside, the first task at hand for the group is probably to share its vision with the rest of the 700 business owners in the three quays.

Mr Tabing said it could be a challenge to find common ground among such a diverse group, each of whom will have his or her own idea of how best to move forward.

He gave the example of Boat Quay, which, unlike Clarke Quay, is not owned by a single company. Clarke Quay's landlord is CapitaLand.

Although Robertson Quay is not owned by a single company either, its main area, Robertson Walk, is managed by Frasers Centrepoint. Boat Quay's landlords, however, range from individuals to large corporations such as the Hong Leong Group.

Left on its own, the tenant mix in Boat Quay is today a hodgepodge of watering holes and seafood restaurants, Mr Tabing said.

The nearby Circular Road has also gained somewhat of a sleazy reputation after a number of girlie bars opened in the mid-2000s.

CapitaLand, on the other hand, said in response to Straits Times' queries last Friday about its plans for Clarke Quay that it would spend $15.6 million to redevelop the area, and add a new frontage on River Valley Road.

The difference has left Boat Quay's tenants eager to see how the SRO will bring back the area's shine since it was first revamped in the 1980s.

Said Mr Ernest Ng, owner of Reddot Brewhouse at Boat Quay and an SRO member: "For landlords, as long as they get good rental returns, what business you do they don't really care."

Mr Alvaro Sanchez, the operations manager of Toby's Estate, a cafe at Robertson Quay, said: "We would be quite happy to collaborate with the organisation if it approaches us."

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