Published June 17, 2008

Phoenix Park draws 'arts village' bid

But $165,000 bid way below top bid of $368,888


A SINGAPORE Land Authority tender for the former Ministry of Home Affairs complex off Tanglin Road has attracted 11 bids, one of which is a proposal for an 'arts village'.

Home for the arts? Spa Esprit Group, which put in the second lowest bid, sees a 'creative eco-system' to incubate local talent

The so-called 'creative commune' proposal - submitted by the Spa Esprit Group - is meant to pull together a collection of creative agencies and art groups, which would make it Singapore's largest 'creative eco-system'.

Spa Esprit Group wants to see the space used to incubate local talent. 'We need a lot more projects geared towards building and sustaining creative eco-systems,' says Chua Koon Beng, the group's financial director, who is also an artist.

Mr Chua, brother of Spa Esprit founder Cynthia Chua, told The Business Times that the group submitted one of the lowest bids based on SLA's guide rent. 'We did that in line with SLA's aim to put a downward pressure on office space rent, and so we can charge lower rents to tenants from the creative community,' he said.

'We think that for the project, the concept and proposed use of the space should be the most important criterion - not the rental yield. This is due to the scale and strategic location of the plot, which is right next to the Youth Olympic Village being built.'

The 641,851 sq ft site - the former headquarters of the Internal Security Department and Ministry of Home Affairs - houses 24 low-rise blocks with a gross floor area of 143,160 sq ft. The guide rent is $165,000 a month or $1.15 per square foot (psf) per month. Spa Esprit Group's submission was for $165,000.

Mr Chua said that the group's interest stems from a lack of 'creative eco-systems' run by a private party that is 'nimble and entrepreneurial'. 'Phoenix Park is a well located and has interesting architecture,' he says. Compared with Old School, which was also meant to draw together creative tenants, the Phoenix Park site is four times larger but has about the same amount of built-up space.

If Spa Esprit wins the bid, it will put together a mix of commercial and supportive spaces for various talents ranging from early stage to more mature set-ups, Mr Chua said.

'There will be commercialisation opportunities without pressure on artists and creative talents to sacrifice their artistic integrity, and also marketing and PR support to communicate and build a brand with local and international appeal to draw in the relevant crowd,' he said.

Spa Esprit Group has the track record, he reckons, highlighting how the group's House at Dempsey Village has been featured in international art, design and architecture magazines such as Azure and Wallpaper.

He believes that there is no shortage of local talent for the creative commune idea, but thinks that there has not been coherent and integrated support for such talent to grow commercially. 'Now that there's a focus on arts education, with the School of The Arts opening, the new campuses for Lasalle-SIA College of the Arts and Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, we will have much more creative young talent entering the market over the coming years,' he said.

Although the group's bid is the second-lowest, Mr Chua does not think government land should be tied to just commercial projects. It should be a 'use and concept that is more aligned to nation-building', according to him.

Phoenix Park is attractive to bidders because the buildings are ready to be occupied. Among the 11 bidders, LHN Facilities Management made the highest bid of $368,888. Other bidders include Richzone Properties Investment, which converted the former Pasir Panjang ITE into modern office blocks after being awarded the 265,000 sq ft site for $288,999 or $1.30 psf per month.

Another bidder for Phoenix Park is Country City Investments, which built and manages the food, beverage and lifestyle enclaves Dempsey Hill and Dempsey Hill Green in Tanglin Village.

A previous plot tendered by SLA, for the former Monk's Hill Secondary School, received seven bids and drew a top bid of $211,328 per month or $2.52 psf per month. This was 43 per cent above SLA's guide rent of $147,300 per month or $1.76 psf per month.