The Makings Of A New Midtown
Once a traditional place of business started by early settlers of Singapore, the Beach Road-Bugis district of today is a thriving mix of commercial businesses and lifestyle establishments. The continuous transformation over the years, especially in the past 15 years through the government’s planning initiatives and collaboration with private developers is turning it into a new wing of the downtown financial centre.
Beach Road is one of the early roads developed in Singapore during the colonial days of the 1800s. It was originally a coastal road fronting the sea but was pushed inland by land reclamation to allow for the construction of houses, a police station, an army headquarters and cinemas. The construction of Nicoll Highway (completed in 1956), Marina Square (1985) and Suntec City (1995-7) on the reclaimed land pushed Beach Road further inland.
The rejuvenation of the Beach Road-Bugis district picked up speed from the 2000s through the redevelopment of some older buildings as well as the sale of sites by the government. These developments include commercial buildings, residential buildings, and buildings with both commercial-residential components. Fast forward to the 2010s, the Central Business District (CBD) has expanded to the Beach Road-Bugis district with a burgeoning of newer buildings that are mixed-use developments and integrated developments.
By definition of the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), mixed commercial and residential developments include a combination of commercial uses and residential flats and may be developed on land zoned “Commercial & Residential” or “Commercial”. If the development is built on “Commercial and Residential” land, the residential component will take up at least 60% of the gross floor area (GFA) while the commercial component will be capped at 40%.
If the development is built on land zoned “Commercial”, the commercial component will take up at least 60% of the GFA and the proportion of non-commercial uses will be subject to approval by the authorities.
Industry players would agree that integrated developments are an elevated form of mixed use developments. Comprising three or more uses (office, retail, residential, hotel) combined with elements such as major transport nodes (e.g. Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) station, bus interchange) and civic facilities such as library and community club, an integrated development deploys coordinated strategies to create a wholistic atmosphere for end-users. Based on this definition, Beach Road-Bugis has a high concentration of three integrated developments. They are South Beach (2016, office, hotel, retail and residences), Duo (2017, office, hotel, retail and residences) and the upcoming Guoco Midtown (2022-2024, office, retail and residences), all with access to MRT stations.
South Beach was jointly developed by a consortium led by City Developments Ltd. The 376,299 sq ft site was bought at the price of $1.689bn in September 2007. The site included the former Non-Commissioned Officers’ (NCO) Club (part of former Beach Road Camp) which was conserved. The integrated project was designed by Foster + Partners in collaboration with Aedas Pte Ltd and comprises South Beach Tower office space, South Beach Avenue which encompasses most of the retail offerings, JW Marriott hotel and South Beach Residences, with access to Esplanade and City Hall MRT stations. The hotel is the first Philippe Starck-designed hotel in Singapore.
Duo is a joint-venture that the governments of Singapore and Malaysia agreed upon in September 2010. It was designed by renown German architect Ole Scheeren and is made up of Duo Tower office space, Duo Galleria mall, Andaz Singapore hotel and Duo Residences. The development is connected to Bugis MRT station via an underground access.
Guoco Midtown was envisaged by GuocoLand to be a mega integrated development that is set to be a new business and lifestyle destination in the CBD. The project will stretch across two sites linked by an underground pedestrian network. The site which fronts Beach Road was purchased in October 2017 at a price of $1.622bn. It includes the former Beach Road Police Station which will be conserved. The second site sits between Tan Quee Lan Street and Rochor Road and was purchased in September 2019 for $800.19m. With a 3.2ha footprint, the mega development will feature a 30-storey Grade A office tower, two residences of different concepts – Midtown Bay and Midtown Modern – and three retail clusters named Midtown Square, Midtown Market and Midtown Common, 30 thematic gardens and landscaped areas. One of the strongest points of Guoco Midtown is its accessibility: it is directly connected to Bugis MRT interchange station which is served by both the East-West and Downtown Lines, while also within walking distance to the North-South and Circle Lines via City Hall, Esplanade and Promenade MRT stations.
Integrated Developments at Beach Road-Bugis District
According to Dictionary.com, “midtown” is defined as the middle part of a city between downtown (urban core of the city) and uptown (away from the core, where affluent people live). Cambridge Dictionary defines “midtown” as the home to a majority of the urban core’s entertainment, shopping, medical facilities and cultural attractions.
This seems to fit well with the Beach Road-Bugis district which has all of the locational characteristics of a ‘Midtown’. Geographically, it sits between the downtown at Marina Bay/Raffles Place and the upcoming waterfront residential precinct at Kampong Bugis; socially, it is where business, entertainment, culture and the arts converge. One can see that Guoco Midtown and several developments in the area will result in the formation of a new midtown.
An Idyllic Escape
While most would expect a downtown business or financial centre to be lined with skyscrapers on both sides of the road immersed in the ongoing buzz of motor vehicles throughout the day, Guoco Midtown will be decidedly different. A collection of 30 thematic gardens will be knitted into the entire development which will not only provide shade but also create a comfortable environment to escape from the bustle of the city, all without having to leave it.
Guoco Midtown is designed to promote community interaction, hence the conception of the three public areas and retail clusters of Midtown Square and Midtown Market on Beach Road and Midtown Common on the Tan Quee Lan Street site below Midtown Modern. Residents and office workers will have a sense of living and working in the nature and landscaped areas spread throughout the development, ranging from a Water Garden at level 1, a Native Garden at level 3 to the Sky Gardens at the top of the office tower. The public will also get to enjoy the lush greenery as they will have access to 10 of these thematic gardens and landscaped areas.
Under the Master Plan 2019, the government will be developing the Bukit Timah-Rochor Green Corridor – a linear park that lies between Bukit Timah Road and Dunearn Road. Envisioned as a journey through a riverine forest and a linear sky park elevated above the canal, the Bukit Timah-Rochor Green Corridor will provide a new attractive route for the public to walk, jog or cycle into the city centre. Should this Green Corridor be extended to Kallang Riverside Park as planned, it will be within reach of the residents at Guoco Midtown.
Around The Block
Beach Road-Bugis district has a vibrant characteristic that is not found almost anywhere else in Singapore. Home to more than 20 historical sites and national monuments and lanes of heritage shophouses amidst the modern architecture of some of Singapore’s newest office buildings and busiest malls, it acts as a bridge to connect the area’s multi-cultural history to the fast-paced CBD of today
Along Tan Quee Lan Street and its adjacent Liang Seah Street are exciting retail and food and beverage (F&B) options such as Chinese, Korean and Thai restaurants as well as cafes and bars which infuse the neighbourhood with a touch of hipster.
Nearby is Bugis Street, where Bugis Village, the largest street market in Singapore, can be found. CapitaLand has taken over the management of this food and shopping hub since April 2020, and will be introducing a modern interpretation of Bugis’ street market concept, while enhancing the iconic architecture of the historical shophouses.
One can also enjoy the thrill of exploring the landscaped footpaths at Arab Street in Kampong Glam, which was formerly an ethnic enclave for the Muslim community in the 1800s. Now, it is a melting pot of vibrant cultures from all over the world with majestic cultural buildings, street art, a myriad of restaurants and bars, and trendy shops. The area is a hip neighbourhood peppered with hole-in-the-wall boutiques in Haji Lane, quaint restaurants and bars in Arab Street and charming cultural spots.
Singapore’s Civic District is also at the doorstep of the Beach Road-Bugis district. Although the Civic District encompasses a relatively small area, it is packed with important historical buildings and museums. Beginning with the renowned Raffles Hotel, one of the few remaining great 19th century hotels in the world, it continues on to St Andrew’s Cathedral, National Gallery Singapore (former Supreme Court and City Hall), The Arts House (former Parliament House), Victoria Theatre & Concert Hall, Asian Civilisations Museum (former Empress Place Building) and more.
The Future Community at Midtown
The string of projects launched and completed over the past decade including South Beach Residences and Duo Residences, and City Gate and Concourse Skyline further down, contributed 1,521 homes to the housing stock in this locale. By the time The M, Midtown Bay and Midtown Modern are completed, another 1,300 units will be added to the precinct – an increase of 85% of what is currently available.
Whereas the 219-unit Midtown Bay offers a mix of one- and two-bedroom apartments, as well as two- and three-bedroom duplexes, Midtown Modern will have 558 apartments comprising a mix of one- to four-bedroom apartments as well as one four-bedroom penthouse of 3,272 sq ft and one five-bedroom penthouse of 3,520 sq ft. Midtown Bay is 33 storeys high while Midtown Modern is 30 storeys high, which allows young professionals and families living in these apartments to overlook the conservation shophouses. This mix of new developments and historical homes is palpable, giving a certain energy that is not found anywhere else.
For investors, they can expect a strong tenant pool from current and future expatriate professionals who will be working in the seven million sq ft or so of offices in the vicinity. Currently, FaceBook is already in South Beach and Mastercard’s Asia Pacific headquarters in Duo. Guoco Midtown will be attractive to tenants in the tech, consumer and financial industries, as well as other innovative companies, just as how Guoco Tower at Tanjong Pagar has recently attracted Toyota Motors, QBE Insurance and China powerhouse ByteDance, which owns video app TikTok, to take up tenancy there. We can expect the profile of the future “Midtown” workforce to be cosmopolitan and dynamic, with a penchant for the colourful mix of art galleries, wall murals, hipster cafes and quirky boutiques.
Today, with remote work accelerating and companies adapting to social distancing, businesses will have to make decisions on everything from real estate to workplace design. The office space at Guoco Midtown is based on the concept of giving tenants the flexibility to have both long-term shared office space (core) and shorter-term adaptable offices (flex) for special project teams and situations. The core and flex concept allows tenants to adjust their space requirements should they opt for a hybrid solution with staff alternating between working in the office and working from home. In addition, a Network Hub offers office tenants workspaces for short-term lease. The verdant setting with swimming pool and jogging track creates a work environment that is based on well-being and enjoyment. Residents of Midtown Bay will also have access to the Network Hub and be able to utilise the lounges, MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibition) facilities, collaborative work spaces and venues for private dinners and social gatherings.
Technology will play a central role in enabling employees to return to the office safely. Features such as contactless lifts, turnstiles, air sterilisation and filtration systems will be incorporated in Guoco Midtown. To further enhance the well-being of office workers, the office tower has its own gardens on level 7 and the roof, a 40m lap pool, a 100m jogging track, an event plaza and party pavilions on the rooftop of the tower.
Among the three integrated developments, Duo Residences was the earliest to be launched in November 2013 and fully sold in 2018. Its unit mix range from one-bedroom (420-549 sq ft) to four-bedroom (1,873-1,948 sq ft) units, and penthouses (2,454-4,349 sq ft). Launched in September 2018, South Beach Residences offers larger luxury apartments, ranging from two-bedroom (936-1,798 sq ft) to four-bedroom (2,239-2,616 sq ft) units, and penthouses (3,897-6,728 sq ft). To date, more than half of the 190 units have been sold. Offering a unique luxury business home concept, Midtown Bay has one- and two-bedroom units (409-775 sq ft) as well as two- and three-bedroom duplexes (990-1,324 sq ft).
The chart shows the price points of the three projects. Prices at South Beach Residences began from $3.2m ($3,400 psf) for 2-bedroom units to an average of $8.5m ($3,350 psf) for four-bedroom units. The biggest penthouse (6,728 sq ft) was sold for $26m ($3,865 psf) in October 2018. The highest psf of $3,950 was achieved by a four-bedroom unit on 35th level. Midtown Bay was launched for sale in October 2019. To date, amidst a global pandemic, more than 70 units have been sold with the highest price tag at $3.81m for a three-bedroom duplex and the highest psf attained was $3,882. Based on the transactions over the same period, the average psf for Midtown Bay was $2,966, close to that of South Beach Residences which was $3,174, suggesting that investors were willing to pay a premium for this project because of its location and product attributes. At these levels, the prices of Midtown Bay and South Beach Residences are almost the same as the upmarket apartments in prime districts 9 and 10.
Median Price (PSF) of Transactions in Integrated Developments
Midtown Modern prices start from above $1.1m for a one-bedroom apartment to $14.98m for a 3,520 sq ft five-bedroom penthouse. In terms of psf, the prices range from above $2,400 to over $4,000 for the penthouses. These prices are at attractive levels, considering the premium location with an MRT interchange station right below, the unique concept of urban living in nature, as well as the track record of the developer known for luxury developments like Wallich Residence.
The New Midtown Coming to Fruition
The transformation of Beach Road-Bugis district is still going on. Following the announcement of the plans for Guoco Midtown, the owners of Shaw Tower, which is adjacent to Guoco Midtown along Beach Road, announced that it will be redeveloped into a 33-storey commercial building comprising 450,000 sq ft of office space with ground floor retail offerings. The office tower will also house indoor community facilities and an outdoor amphitheatre.
The 47-year-old Golden Mile Complex, which lies on the far eastern end of Beach Road, has been identified by URA for conservation because of its heritage and cultural value. If it is successfully sold en bloc for redevelopment, URA is open to facilitate its conservation through incentives such as bonus floor area, allowing the building of an additional 30-storey tower within the existing site, a partial development charge waiver on the additional floor area, adjustment of the site boundary to be more regular, the option to top up the lease on the land to 99 years, and the flexibility to adapt the building to a mix of possible uses. The redevelopment of Golden Mile Complex may in turn trigger the rejuvenation of the other older developments in the vicinity – Golden Mile Tower (1974), The Plaza (1979), The Gateway (1990) – giving a new lease of life to these buildings.
On a more macro level, the government is calling for a Master Developer to plan and develop Kampong Bugis, an 8.2 ha site located at the mouth of Kallang River with 1.1 km of water frontage. Envisioned to be an attractive waterfront residential precinct that is car-lite, community-centric and sustainable, it will have some 4,000 dwelling units with supporting non-residential uses. Phase 1 of the site is currently open for developers’ application.
By the time all these new initiatives are completed, the Beach Road-Bugis district, anchored by Guoco Midtown and other integrated developments, will indeed be the “Midtown” of the CBD as it encapsulates the live-work-play lifestyle through the diversity of uses.