Sunday, November 23, 2008

Shophouses To Become Hotel

Source : The Straits Times, Nov 24, 2008

$12m project involves a row of nine pre-war Peranakan-style units

A ROW of nine pre-war shophouses, in the Peranakan enclave of Katong, are to be converted into a 'character' hotel aimed at leisure and business travellers.

Construction of the $12 million hotel on East Coast Road will start early next year and end in 2010.

Santa United International Holdings, a home-grown firm that started in the petroleum trading business but now boasts a growing hotel arm, will develop the project.

It will turn the property into the 67-room Santa Grand Hotel East Coast, keeping the conserved Peranakan-themed facade in the process.

The hotel will cover a land area of 1,150 sq m and will have a total gross floor area of 3,091 sq m.

This will include a new five-storey extension with 750 sq m of gross floor area at the back of the two-storey shophouses.

Some back portions of the shophouses will give way to the new block.

There will be a lap pool on the roof and a cafe, a restaurant and two shop units on the ground floor, where there will be alfresco sitting.

Santa United managing director Ng Cheng Lock told The Straits Times that he wanted to turn the property into a hotel because it is a rare stand-alone row of conserved shophouses situated in a charming area with a rich historical and cultural value.

Katong is home to many well-known eateries, particularly those serving Peranakan cuisine. And it was the place where Singapore's wealthy elite set up homes in the late 19th to the mid-20th centuries.

When the opportunity to buy the row en bloc arose more than a decade ago, MrNg jumped at it. He paid about $17 million then as it was at the height of the property market, he said.

The hotel, near the Holy Family Church, will be a cosy character establishment, rather than a hip or upscale boutique one like Hotel 1929, he said.

While Mr Ng considered putting a hotel on the site a few years ago, work began on plans and paperwork only a year ago.

Provisional permission from the Urban Redevelopment Authority came about two months ago in a ruling that included changing the land use from 'commercial' to 'hotel' and the go-ahead for the extension.

Some of the 12 tenants occupying the shops or the offices have already moved out. Santa, which also operates from the shophouses, is in the process of moving to a new office in Changi South.

The Hotel Licensing Board said Santa Grand Hotel East Coast will be subjected to a new hotel ruling that requires hotels along Joo Chiat Road and its surrounds to be let only at full-day rates from next year.

But Mr Ng is unperturbed as the firm plans to charge a daily rate of about $200. Other hotels in the Santa group also now charge daily rates, he said.

Santa owns five hotels under the Santa brand name and manages Victoria Hotel.

It started with Santa Grand Hotel Aljunied, known formerly as Sunwell Hotel, in Geylang a decade ago, and the group now has Santa Grand Hotel in West Coast and Santa Grand Hotel in Little India.

Its 80-room Santa Grand Hotel Bugis - located in two buildings, one a new development and the other a conservation house - is set to open early next year.

But the hotel in East Coast Road will be its grandest property, said Mr Ng.

Santa, which employs 130 people, recorded a turnover of about $70 million last year. Its hotels has some cross-over clients from its petroleum trading business, he said.

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