April 3, 2008

Capitol Theatre slated for redevelopment

URA plans makeover for theatre and adjoining Capitol Building and Stamford House

By Hong Xinyi

CAPITOL Theatre, the 79-year-old building which screened its last movie in 1998, will be redeveloped along with its adjoining buildings - Stamford House, Capitol Building and Capitol Centre - next year.

Close to 90 per cent of tenants will be moving out by May next year. 'We will inform the tenants of the need to move and work with them once the timing and details for the development of the site are finalised,' said a spokesman for the Singapore Land Authority (SLA), which oversees the current tenants of these buildings.

The buildings will be tendered out as a single integrated site, encompassing an area of about 1.45ha, an Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) spokesman told The Straits Times.

The timing and details of the tender are being studied but heritage buffs need not fear that a piece of Singapore history will be erased from the landscape.

Three of these buildings have been gazetted for conservation, which means, among other things, that their facades must be maintained.

Stamford House, built in 1904, is the oldest of the three buildings. Capitol Theatre was built in 1929, and Capitol Building, previously known as Shaw Building, in 1933.

Asked why it was being redeveloped, the URA spokesman said that the area, between Hill Street and North Bridge Road along Stamford Road, has not 'fully maximised its development potential'.

The four buildings have a total of 250 tenants, including offices and retail outlets.

The area has also drawn a cluster of boutiques run by home-grown designers such as Ms Celia Loe and Ms Baylene Li in recent years.

Most are loath to move from their spacious premises set in a piquant environment, especially given the relatively low rents set by the SLA.

Fashion designer Kevin Seah, 33, whose eponymous boutique has been in Stamford House for the past year, said: 'It's my dream place for a boutique since I decided to become a fashion designer at age 15. I love the classic architecture.'

He is paying about $5 per sq ft for his store now, and expects to pay up to 10 times more if he relocates to a mall.

Another boutique owner, Mr Nicholas Wong, 35, said the area attracts a good mix of locals and tourists, who are drawn by the cluster of local labels.

'I think shopping here is quite a different experience from going to a typical mall. I hope Singapore's shopping scene won't be just all malls.'

Property analysts reckon that the bigger developers would be keen to bid for the site. Likely bid prices are difficult to gauge as this would depend on the duration of the lease and conditions of development imposed by the authorities.

Mr Nicholas Mak, director of research and consultancy at Knight Frank, liked the idea of having one developer to give the area a special feel, 'instead of many different entities doing a more rojak kind of development with no coherent theme'.

'But it also means that the whole development will either succeed or fail together. It's putting all your eggs into one basket.'

But it may well be easier for a single developer to make the long-vacant Capitol Theatre a lively place again, he added.

Once owned by a Persian family and later Shaw Cinema, it was acquired by the URA in 1987. In 2000, the Singapore Tourism Board took over the building to explore alternative uses for it, but plans to turn it into a home for an arts group did not bear fruit.

'Capitol Theatre wasn't built as a cineplex, so it may need surrounding restaurants and retail outlets to draw crowds and generate revenue,' said Mr Mak.

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