SINGAPORE: Four long-time dining establishments in lifestyle enclave Dempsey Hill have been offered new tenancies as "anchor heritage tenants" — giving them a lifeline as their leases were originally due to expire in March.
They include: Singapore’s oldest family-run Indian restaurant, Samy’s Curry; the country’s first locally owned microbrewery RedDot BrewHouse; local favourite Long Beach Seafood; and restaurant Morsels, helmed by award-winning chef Petrina Loh, authorities told CNA on Wednesday (Jan 15).
The eateries are all housed in Block 25 and 25A of Dempsey Hill.
"These four establishments are local and/or heritage brands with strong local stories to tell. Having them in Dempsey Hill adds to the lifestyle enclave’s vibrant offerings," said the Singapore Land Authority (SLA), who manages state properties such as those in the area.
"Backed by their popularity, we believe that these establishments can contribute to the vision of Tanglin Village as a precinct that provides a differentiated experience."
SLA added that it is working with STB to offer these tenants a tenure of up to nine years, and is in talks with them to finalise the tenancy terms.
NEW LIFELINE BRINGS RELIEF FOR TENANTS
The news ended months of anxiety for tenants, such as Samy’s Curry, who said they did not have a plan B for when their lease was to expire in mid-March.
"We were very afraid we wouldn't get the place and that they would give it to a foreign brand or a more atas (upscale) brand," said Ms Nagajyothi Mahendran, director of the restaurant, which was started by her grandfather.
"We were really lost, especially for my dad who’s spent his entire life here ... so I’m very happy and relieved,” she added.
The move is also validation for the homegrown brands, according to RedDot Brewery, which has been in the area for 13 years.
"It’s a good encouragement for us. A lot of times we tend to look outwards, at foreign brands and we forget we have very strong good brands here in Singapore, so why not support them?” said RedDot’s 62-year-old director Ng Mui Lee.
Both Samy’s and RedDot are housed within one of the 18 blocks managed by Country City Investments (CCI), who has been master tenant of the area since 2007.
With the new tenancy, they will no longer be under CCI and will work directly with SLA as their landlord.
"There's a lot of competition in F&B so it's our hope that with SLA taking over, it can flex more muscle and draw in more crowds into the area, reminding people that Dempsey is a place to come to,” Mrs Ng added.
THREE BLOCKS TO BE PUT UP FOR TENDER
However, not all tenants will get to stay.
At least six units in three blocks — 26, 26A and 26B — will have to clear out, after failing to secure lease extensions.
These blocks house tenants such as Thai restaurant Tawandang Microbrewery, furniture stores Shang Antique and textile merchant EmGallery.
The three blocks will be put up for tender, starting with Block 26 on Wednesday, followed by 26A and 26B in February 2020.
"Building on the strong local branding that will be retained around the area at Blocks 25 and 25A Dempsey Road, the tender at Block 26 will be for F&B, retail and art uses with a strong local focus,” said SLA.
This is in line with the Singapore Tourism Board’s (STB) objective to "profile and promote home-grown brands and local talents", said an SLA spokesperson.
The units up for grabs will come with three-year tenures which can be renewed for two further terms of three years each.
The tender will be jointly evaluated by STB and SLA based on price and quality, with a heavier emphasis on quality.
"New tenders will be launched in phases for changes to take place progressively, and to ensure business continuity within Dempsey cluster," said SLA.
This is the latest in a string of moves to rejuvenate the Tanglin Village area, comprising the Dempsey, Minden and Loewen clusters.
Last August, four other Dempsey blocks - 14A, 14C, 14D, 14E - were put up for tender and awarded to Como Lifestyle, which already has a complex in the area.
SLA also said in 2018 it would be improving accessibility, traffic flow and space planning between clusters over the next two years.
NINE BLOCKS GIVEN TWO-YEAR LEASE EXTENSIONS
Out of the 18 blocks, tenants in nine blocks have been offered two-year lease extensions - namely, blocks 8, 8D, 9, 9A, 9B, 10, 11, 13, 13A.
These blocks house familiar names such as seafood restaurant Jumbo Seafood, Mexican eatery Margarita’s, Australian cafe Jones the Grocer and art space Redsea Gallery.
They are also home to furniture stores such as Woody Antique House, Hedger’s Carpet Gallery and Maywell Lifestyles.
Tenants who CNA spoke to were pleased about being able to stay, citing the precinct’s spaciousness, unique tenant mix and relaxed atmosphere as key draws.
Such large units with relatively high footfall is also ideal for selling furniture, said one home decor shop owner, who declined to be named.
However, some tenants see the two-year lifeline as merely kicking the can down the road.
"We are happy, but at the same time, it's like we can't shout for joy because it's two years – we still can't do a lot of planning,” said Mr Peter Hedger, owner of Hedger’s Carpet Gallery.
"I think retails stores or restaurants need long-term planning, so that we can do enhancements in our building. Maybe drop my ceiling a bit, do the air conditioning, re-do the lighting and wiring, but with a two-year lease we can't do it."
Master tenant CCI says it is "still in the midst of discussion with SLA with regards to the future beyond the freshly granted two years tenancy".
New shops will be launching soon at the blocks under its management, including a pet store and a cooking school, it added.
FAREWELL TO DEMPSEY
Outgoing tenants may choose to bid for the spaces again, but one store that will be bidding farewell to Dempsey Hill is Lotto Carpets, which has been in the area for more than 22 years.
"I was seven or eight years old when the business was moved here and it's been so long that you can't help but feel part of the whole area," said sixth-generation carpet dealer Imran Abid Mir, whose family owns the shop.
"You’ve seen so many different phases that the area has gone through from literally just being old army barracks to the hustle and bustle of an upmarket place that it is now. So really mixed feelings, but of course, we're always optimistic," added the 33-year-old, who is the marketing director for the store.
Lotto Carpets said it has plans to move closer to Orchard Road to be nearer its customer base, while others like Tawandang have decided to cease operations completely.
Tanglin Village housed British army barracks in the early 1860s, until the Singapore government took ownership in the 1970s and used it for military purposes.
After 1989, it was progressively transformed into a quaint retail enclave known for antique and furniture stores.
CCI took over a large part of the area in 2007, incorporating more retail, recreational and food & beverage outlets.