Published April 6, 2006

URA to spiff up Singapore


SINGAPORE is often cited as one of the best cities in the world to live and work. Most recently, Asian readers of Time magazine voted Singapore their favourite business city. This is a result of the concerted effort by the government to create an environment that helps to position the country as a leading regional business and financial centre.

Big plans: Spearheading the development of Marina Bay is the BFC, which will provide some 438,000 sqm of office, retail and residential space

But Singapore is facing increasing competition from other Asian cities, not just for international interest and investments, but also for global talent. As Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in his 2005 National Day Rally speech: 'This has to be a city which is full of life and energy and excitement, a place where people want to live, work and play.' For the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), the development agency for Marina Bay, this last element has been a top priority in their plans for the area.

Says URA CEO Cheong Koon Hean: 'With Marina Bay, we want to present a new signature image of Singapore. It is more than a place for serious work, it is also a place where you can live life to the fullest.'

To that end, URA is striving to ensure that developments at Marina Bay are designed with people in mind with a mix of residential, commercial and entertainment facilities that will give it a 24/7 vibrancy.

Marina Bay, she added, is also about creating a city of the future that will provide an excellent quality of life in a modern metropolis. At the same time, it will be seamlessly linked back to the city's rich multi-cultural heritage.

Perhaps the most anticipated project at Marina Bay is the proposed integrated resort (IR). Bids for the project, which is attracting strong international interest from the likes of Harrah's Entertainment, MGM Mirage, Las Vegas Sands and Genting International, will close at the end of the month.

Whichever company wins the bid, one thing's for sure: it will be a resort like nothing Singapore has ever seen.

The integrated resort will complement other entertainment attractions at Marina Bay including the Esplanade as well as one of the world's highest observation wheels - the 178 metre Singapore Flyer, which is set to provide a stunning view of the city.

Spearheading the development of Marina Bay are the commercial sites at One Raffles Quay and the new Business and Financial Centre (BFC), a mega project comprising 3.55 hectares which will provide some 438,000 square metres of office, retail and residential space.

Said BFC Development, a consortium comprising Keppel Land, Hong Kong's Cheung Kong Holdings and Hongkong Land Holdings: 'Our plans for Phase One (of the BFC) demonstrate our confidence in Singapore's growing property market and its continued development as the financial services hub of Asia. We believe that this strategically located site fronting Marina Bay will be transformed into one of Asia's landmark integrated mixed-use developments.'

Both the BFC and nearby One Raffles Quay are being developed by the same consortium.

One Raffles Quay, also designed by America-based Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates (KPF) and Singapore's Architects 61, features large, regular column-free floor plates of up to 1,900 sq m and 2,800 sq m at each of its two towers, specifically designed to meet the requirements of leading financial institutions and multinationals.

To date, more than 70 per cent of the space has been pre-let to global companies such as ABN AMRO, Deutsche Bank, UBS, Barclays Capital, Ernst & Young, and Societe Generale Private Banking.

On the residential front, both towers of The Sail @ Marina Bay, a luxurious residential development designed by renowned architect Peter Pran of New York-based NBBJ, sold out within weeks of their launch. The 70-storey condominium will be among the world's tallest residential buildings when it is completed in 2009.

Other developments in the pipeline include the world's first double-helix-structure bridge, designed by award-winning architect Philip Cox, who also designed Sydney's National Aquatic Centre (used for the 2000 Sydney Olympics).

The 280-metre-long pedestrian component of the bridge, linking Marina Centre and Bayfront, features two opposite spiral steel structures held together by a series of connecting struts. Its resemblance to the structure of DNA - the basic building block of life - symbolises life and continuity, renewal and growth, reflecting our aspirations for Marina Bay.

Building on Singapore's Garden City legacy, three world-class waterfront gardens (94 hectares) have been planned for the area. Each garden will feature a distinctive design and character. A 13-kilometre-long promenade and connecting bridges will link the gardens, forming a continuous public waterfront loop. To be completed around 2010, the gardens will be a green sanctuary for all visitors.

In addition, Marina Bay will feature a series of distinctive districts clustered around major public spaces and signature streets. Unique planting schemes combining different tree and shrub species will also help to differentiate the individual districts. In the next phase of development, there will be two exciting sites for investment opportunities. One of these sites is at Collyer Quay, which is planned as a waterfront lifestyle development and will be put up for sale as a confirmed site in June.

The historic buildings at Clifford Pier and the former Custom Harbour Branch will be rejuvenated to provide more lifestyle, F&B and entertainment facilities for the community. The other site is the Central Promontory site in front of the BFC, which is planned to be developed for public attractions. No timeframe has been set for its release.

The government has adopted a strategy to provide timely and appropriate services and facilities to enable the smooth functioning of Marina Bay, having pumped in close to $2 billion to build the infrastructural base, including a Common Services Tunnel, Rapid Transit System, the Marina Barrage, and a new waterfront promenade and bridge.

The first phase of the Common Services Tunnel, providing essential services to the area, will be operational soon. The Rapid Transit System is also being extended into the area with the construction of a new downtown extension, which will have three new stations at the Marina Bay area. With the completion of the Marina Barrage in 2007, Marina Bay will be transformed into a large water playground offering a wide range of water-sports activities from powerboat racing to canoeing and wake boarding.

The whole Greater Marina Bay, including Marina Channel and Kallang Basin, can be used as a stage for special events. Last year, Marina Bay started the New Year's Eve tradition of lighting wishes on water.

And while it will take another couple of years before the developments are completed, it looks as though Marina Bay will, as Prime Minister Lee said, 'be a city in our image, a sparkling jewel, a home for all of us to be proud of'.

The writer is head of Marina Bay Development at URA