Somerset transformation

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THE action along Orchard Road, Singapore's premier shopping strip, has shifted to the Somerset area, where a wave of redevelopments and makeovers of older buildings is taking place.

The show-stealer this time around is orchardgateway, a new landmark designed by renowned architect, Paul Tange of Tange Associates, that has a tubular glass bridge spanning Orchard Road and linking two towers. orchardgateway is a redevelopment of two properties: the former Specialists' Shopping Centre and Phoenix Hotel owned by Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp (OCBC) on one side of Orchard Road, and Great Eastern Holdings' Emerald Orchard on the other side. The project is jointly developed by OCBC, Great Eastern and United Engineers Ltd (UEL), which is also the appointed project manager.

Construction is already underway: A 20-storey tower with two basement levels, which will house the 500-room Traders' Hotel and a six-storey shopping mall, will be located on the site of the former Specialists' Shopping Centre and Phoenix Hotel Orchard. An 11-storey tower with two basement levels will be rising up where [email protected] used to sit. Called [email protected], the tower will contain six storeys of retail and six storeys of offices. The total development cost of the project is estimated at S$700 million (RM1.75 billion).

"Its strategic location on Orchard Road and visually arresting architecture — the first to physically straddle Orchard Road — will definitely make it a new landmark," says David Liew, managing director of United Engineers Develop­ments, property arm of UEL.

The mall at orchardgateway is expected to be completed next September, with the opening scheduled for end-2013 or early 2014. More than half the 180,000 sq ft retail space has already been pre-leased a year ahead of opening, according to Savills Singapore, the exclusive marketing agent.

"orchardgateway is positioned as a fashion-centric mall, with 80% of the space allocated to mid-priced international and regional fashion retail brands," says Sulian Tan Wijaya, Savills Singapore's senior director of retail and lifestyle. "The response from retailers has been good."

The mall will feature a "permanent catwalk" to complement the fashion corridor on the ground floor. At the second basement level is an underpass across Orchard Road as well, and that will also be turned into another fashion corridor, comprising smaller indie fashion brands. The fourth level has been designated the men's floor, with fashion brands catering to "the sophisticated and discerning male shopper". "We are close to signing a new fashion retail concept, and its flagship store will be an exciting addition to the Orchard Road fashion scene," says Tan Wijaya in an emailed response to queries from City & Country.

Some of the new-to-market brands coming to orchardgateway are Religion from the UK, which will be opening a concept store, and Nail Quick, which had 62 salons in Japan and one in China as at 2011. Asia's third largest Swatch Megastore and Nike's new concept store called Amplify Women's will be opening there as well. Home furnishing retailer Crate & Barrel has signed up for a 20,500 sq ft flagship store at [email protected].

The Orchard Road branch of the National Library, previously located at Ngee Ann City, will reopen with an 18,000 sq ft "lifestyle-oriented" space called [email protected]. It will be located on the third and fourth floors of orchardgateway.

With the completion of orchardgateway, the 24-hour Discovery Walk — a boulevard lined with eateries on either side — will seamlessly connect [email protected] and Orchard Central. orchardgateway will also be linked directly to the Somerset MRT station at the two basement levels.

According to sources, rental rates achieved at orchardgateway have set a new benchmark for the Somerset area, which starts from Orchard Building and ends at Orchard Central.More makeovers in Somerset areaOlder malls along Orchard Road have also been spruced up, with new international brands entering the scene and existing brands expanding. For instance, H&M opened its flagship 30,000 sq ft store in Orchard Building in September last year.

The Heeren mall, located directly across the road from H&M and owned by Swee Cheng Holdings, has been closed, and the hoarding around it announces the opening of a new Robinsons store. Robinsons is said to be spending S$40 million on a 150,000 sq ft flagship store at The Heeren. The new store is scheduled to open in mid-2014. Considered to be Singapore's oldest department store, Robinsons & Co was acquired by UAE conglomerate Al-Futtaim Group (now called Majid Al Futtaim Group) in 2008.

The new Robinsons at the revamped The Heeren could feature more fashion brands reaching out to younger shoppers, reckons Tan Wijaya. "This would make sense, as The Heeren is near the young and vibrant Somerset stretch of Orchard Road."

Tan Wijaya notes that the Somerset area has evolved into a dynamic shopping, lifestyle and entertainment zone with its own identity and positioning, which is distinct from the ION Orchard-Ngee Ann City-Paragon zone.

She sees the relocation of Robinsons to The Heeren as an opportunity for The Centrepoint to reposition itself as well. Robinsons has been an anchor tenant at The Centrepoint since 1983 and occupies 130,000 sq ft of retail space in the mall. Thus, its customers tend to be more mature and long-time supporters. The Centrepoint could offer new international fashion brands targeting the younger set, says Tan Wijaya. The younger and trendier fast fashion brands such as H&M and Forever 21 at [email protected] are already attracting this crowd to the Somerset area.

Another opportunity for The Centrepoint would be to strengthen the "lifestyle cluster" in the area by introducing more new lifestyle fashion concepts, says Tan Wijaya. A huge catalyst would be the opening of Crate & Barrel's flagship store just two doors away at orchardgateway. With the underground link and overhead bridge to orchardgateway, The Centrepoint will also enjoy greater connectivity with the new malls across the road.

Rumours are that Frasers Centrepoint could also redevelop The Centrepoint. "We're not ready to comment on The Centrepoint's redevelopment plans as yet," says a Frasers Centrepoint spokeswoman in response to inquiries from City & Country. "Frasers Centrepoint looks at redevelopment or refurbishment as an ongoing process in our asset enhancement planning."268 Orchard — luxury boutique offering?The former Yen San Building at 268 Orchard Road, which was flanked by The Heeren and Knightsbridge, has been torn down and the site is expected to be redeveloped into a mixed-use commercial building with retail and office space. A property analyst at Maybank Kim Eng estimates the retail space at 150,000 sq ft, and word on the street is that it could feature a luxury retail brand as an anchor tenant taking up most of the space.

Knightsbridge is the retail portion of the Grand Park Orchard five-star luxury hotel, owned by Park Hotel Group from Hong Kong. The four-storey retail mall contains 83,000 sq ft of space and was fully leased when Abercrombie & Fitch took up 21,000 sq ft for its flagship store when it opened last December. In 2010, Topshop opened its 15,000 sq ft flagship store, its largest in Asia, at Knightsbridge. Savills was also the exclusive marketing agent for the property.

Across the road from The Heeren is the Mandarin Gallery, owned by Overseas Union Enterprise (OUE). It underwent a S$200 million makeover and reopened in 2009 with a total of 180,000 sq ft retail space "with a nice niche offering", according to a property consultant.

Word on the street is that a deal to purchase Mandarin Gallery from OUE has been struck between the world's largest sovereign wealth fund, Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA), and Pramerica Real Estate Investors (Asia). The price tag on the retail space at Mandarin Gallery is reportedly in the S$4,000 psf range, said to be in line with current capital values of prime Orchard Road malls.

The repositioning of The Heeren, with the upcoming Robinsons flagship store and the redevelopment of 268 Orchard Road, will further extend the vibrant shopping experience along Orchard Road all the way to the Somerset area, where the lates rejuvenation catalyst is orchard­gateway.

Cecilia Chow is City & Country editor at The Edge Singapore. This story first appeared in The Edge weekly edition of Nov 26-Dec 2, 2012.