Turf City tenants resigned to end of lease, but struggle to find new venues offering the same experience
They will have to move out by December 2023, with some having to leave even earlier from a site earmarked for new residences and an upcoming MRT station.
SINGAPORE: Riders Cafe at Turf City will move out of its premises in February 2023 - and may not reopen elsewhere.
Cafe owner Jan Yeo has yet to find an alternative venue ahead of the building’s lease expiring in December 2023, despite looking out for a year now.
The eatery is a sub-tenant of horse-riding school Bukit Timah Saddle Club, which has been asked to return part of its premises earlier - from the first half of 2023 - to support tunnelling works for the Cross Island MRT line.
The Singapore Government recently reminded tenants at Turf City's 140-hectare site - about the size of 200 football fields - that their leases would not be extended further after a second and final extension.
The owner of Riders Cafe's - which has been at the same venue for 15 years - has been looking for a place that is “raw and natural”, with a similar vibe to Turf City, but has not found anything yet.
“So far, most places out there are quite pretty and fancy and a bit more manicured, so you don't get this this kampung feel anymore,” the nature lover told CNA.
"I don't think you can replicate this natural scenery and background. So, very likely we're going to have to just close, and probably take our time to find somewhere. Either that or we will just, you know, close indefinitely.”
While it did not come as a shock that the lease for the site - which has been slated for residential use since Singapore's 1998 Master Plan - will not be extended, it was still a “bummer”, said owner of The Cage Sports Park Rajesh Mulani.
“I suppose our simplistic way (of thinking) is: ‘We lost those two years. Just roll it (end of lease) back two years and at least we have a chance of recovering back what we have lost'."
With this no longer possible, the end of his firm’s lease at Turf City has wider implications, said Mr Mulani.
“What I think is the bigger waste is the sporting lifestyle that we have helped to build," he explained, noting that roughly 100,000 people use the 10-hectare premises - about 18 football fields - every month for activities like soccer, tennis, and paintball.
“Our sports resources are very highly utilised. And now we've a critical mass of people who come actively and regularly to play sports, so you don't want to waste that momentum. So, for us, the hunt is on. We've got to figure out what and where next.”
Those who use the premises are anxious, wondering where they can take their games, Mr Mulani added.
But the search for a next venue has not been an easy one, given the kind of land space he requires. Current prices have also been kept affordable because the sports park is not housed in a commercial entity.
This space at Turf City is “unmatched”, said Mr Mulani.
“This, if you like, is a heart of sport. This is like a very, very big mega mall of sport.
"You've got like-minded people, like-minded energy, like-minded buzz and you feel like you're in another place ... That's going to be missed."
UNOFFICIAL “SPORTS HUB”
Like Mr Mulani, Mr Gary Tan, chief executive of the Ronnie O’Sullivan Snooker Academy, has observed a vibrant sporting culture at Turf City.
The location is now seen as an unofficial “sports hub”, he said.
His academy, which has more than 600 members, offers snooker in a professional environment, which helps to shed its image as a sport played by delinquents, Mr Tan added.
He opened it just last November after sinking a few hundred thousand dollars into renovation, including resurfacing of floors.
“We thought that you know, we take a plunge and just hope it gets extended, and then we stay here for three years, six years,” said Mr Tan.
Despite renegotiating for a 40 per cent rental discount, he still expects to make a mid- to high-five-figure loss by the time his lease expires.
It is now back to the drawing board for Mr Tan, who thinks the Singapore Sports Hub could be a suitable next location.
The Turf City tenants said they have yet to be engaged by the Singapore Land Authority, but Riders Cafe owner Jan Yeo remains optimistic about what may come.
“Hopefully, in the future, if they do redevelop this area again and keep this building as part of another façade, maybe they will ask us if we want to run a restaurant here again,” said the long-time tenant.
For Mr Mulani, it is keeping the sporting culture that he is concerned about.
“We have built this momentum where people are playing regularly. I hope that doesn't get underestimated."