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Orchard retailers, landlords key to rejuvenation

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SRA says infrastructure upgrades not enough

A 500m stretch of Orchard Road may be shut to traffic permanently, as part of plans to rejuvenate the street and turn the Dhoby Ghaut area into a green oasis.

This was among the ideas proposed by government agencies on Wednesday to make Singapore's premier shopping belt more than a retail destination.

Observers and stakeholders said that while the proposal to shut part of a major thoroughfare may cause traffic issues, the payoff could be worth it.

Property owners and mall developers, however, hold the key to the success or failure of the rejuvenation efforts, they added.

The Land Transport Authority said it is exploring the pedestrianisation of a section of Dhoby Ghaut, and further study is required before finalising the details.

The proposed road closure would involve the stretch between Buyong and Handy roads, or the Istana and the junction before The Cathay.

Nanyang Technological University senior research fellow Gopinath Menon said traffic would be impacted, but its effects would be manageable as the section proposed for pedestrianisation does not affect access to buildings in the area such as Plaza Singapura.

Mr Bernie Tay, co-owner of burger chain Fatboy's The Burger Bar, which has a street-facing outlet at MacDonald House, said: "As a retailer in the area, I think it's a fantastic idea.

"There are already existing green spaces though, and no one goes there. Unless they create a lot of amenities and attractions for people to go to, it will be one big empty park."

Included in the confirmed plans for the 2.4km Orchard Road are different offerings among the Tanglin, Somerset, Orchard and Dhoby Ghaut areas.

But stakeholders have said that landlords and retailers must play their part in the transformation inside the malls.

The Singapore Retail Association (SRA) agrees that more than infrastructure improvements are needed.

This year's Great Singapore Sale, which it organises, will be "revamped" and will promote local designers and talents, said SRA president R. Dhinakaran.

A leading retailer with dozens of shops on Orchard Road who declined to be named said that while malls must be willing to compromise on rental income to support lifestyle offerings from young entrepreneurs, there may be roadblocks as most malls on the shopping belt are under real estate investment trusts, which are driven to maximise profits.

Orchard Road developers and mall managers were mostly mum on their plans to participate in rejuvenation efforts or align their tenant mixes with the themes of the sub-precincts.

Wisma Atria, Ngee Ann City, The Centrepoint, Tanglin Mall, The Cathay and the Cathay Cineleisure Orchard mall, 313@Somerset and Plaza Singapura declined to comment or did not respond by press time.

Far East Organization's chief operating officer for its retail business group Mavis Seow said its mall Orchard Central already caters to the younger crowd in the area, while Orchard Turn Developments said that Ion Orchard is working closely with associations and government organisations.