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Grand slamThe Grandstand is set to bring the buzz back to the old Turf City at Bukit TimahTay Suan Chiang28 July 2012Move over, Dempsey Hill. The next destination hot spot could well be where horses used to race. Turf City at Bukit Timah is getting a transformation which is expected to be completed by the fourth quarter of this year. It will boast a new look and a new name - The Grandstand, named after the iconic structure of the former Bukit Timah Turf Club.Standing on nearly two million square feet of land, The Grandstand will be the largest lifestyle hub in Bukit Timah. "We envision creating a destination for people to relax and unwind after work or during the weekends and enjoy an unprecedented retail and lifestyle experience amidst the unique serenity and greenery of Bukit Timah," says its developer Benson Tan, CEO of Cogent Land Capital.The Grandstand will be about retail, sports, wellness, enrichment, wining and dining. Among the 25 new tenants who have joined The Grandstand include the TungLok Group which will be introducing two new dining concepts, Hansang Korean Restaurant, and Ristorante Da Valentino, which opened earlier this week.Executive chairman of the TungLok Group Andrew Tjioe says, "We chose to open here since TungLok does not have any restaurant around the Bukit Timah area and we were impressed with the project presentation by the landlord. We believe that the place will become a one-stop destination, rivalling venues such as Holland Village and Dempsey Hill."Katrina Lugartos, spokesman from VeganBurg says, "The Grandstand is right smack in the centre of Singapore. We are also planning to roll out our islandwide delivery once operation is grounded."For Son Mijin, owner of Hansang Korean Restaurant, opening at The Grandstand fulfils her wish to have a bigger restaurant. Her 12,500 sq ft restaurant will be the biggest of her three outlets in Singapore. "A bigger space means I can cater to a bigger crowd and have a central kitchen and a kimchi making factory on the premises," she says.Familiar favourites Jack's Place and Restaurant Hoshigaoka will also be opening at The Grandstand. "Based on our market survey and feedback, there are demands for a casual Western and Japanese family restaurant within the Bukit Timah area," says Jerry Lim, corporate development manager at JP Pepperdine, which manages the restaurants. He adds, "There was a Jack's Place outlet at Sixth Ave during the mid-1990s. We hope to rekindle that lost relationship with our diners."Sulian Tan-Wijaya, senior director for retail and lifestyle at Savills Singapore, the marketing agent for the development, says the new tenants "had to be in retail, lifestyle, enrichment, sports, and F&B which could bring to life The Grandstand's bold vision of creating a strong lifestyle destination in the heart of lush greenery in the prime Bukit Timah district".Food-loving Singaporeans will be happy to hear that "the F&B mix had been carefully curated, comprising a strong line-up of Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Cuban, and other concepts, with hardly any duplication", says Ms Tan-Wijaya.Local architecture firm Formwerkz is transforming the building, whose makeover price tag could cost a reported $11 million. Attention has been given to showcase the decorative facade elements as well as the A-frame concrete structures. New escalators and elevators are being put in for better access to all areas of the building.Mr. Tan says, "The Grandstand is a modern interpretation of past colonial charm and accentuation of the style and form of yesteryears' modernist architecture." The development comprises two buildings: the seven-storey North Grandstand and the six-storey South Grandstand which are connected to each other with a linkway from the first to fourth storeys.
The North Grandstand will house a majority of The Grandstand's retail, services, and kids' activities offerings. Existing tenant Giant Hypermart, which has been here since 2002, will remain on the ground floor. The second storey will house various F&B outlets. Business catering to kids' activities will be housed on the third storey, while the fourth storey will have retail outlets.The fifth and sixth storeys will cater to sports and fitness businesses. "The seventh storey, with its majestic view of the surrounding Bukit Timah area, will be reserved for a premium F&B concept," says Mr. Tan.Over at the South Grandstand, food will be the main offering on the first and second levels. There will be an open-to-sky courtyard that is flanked by double volume height restaurants that offer outdoor seating, just right for those who like alfresco dining. For the patrons who prefer indoor dining, the South Grandstand's food street offers air-conditioned seating and a wide variety of cuisines from different cultures.On the third storey, there will be more restaurants with a view of the sports field, the former race track. The fourth storey will be dedicated to children-centric activities such as an indoor playground and kid's gym. The fifth and sixth storeys of the South Grandstand will be catered for sporting facilities, spas, and fitness centres.But, hold your horses. Many of the new restaurants and businesses will only be operating from September. The Grandstand is still a major construction site. The hoardings are still up and most of the building has been gutted. However, existing tenants are still going about their business amid the construction.For first-timers, getting to these businesses can be a nightmare, despite the many makeshift signs pasted on walls. Take a wrong turn and you could find yourself walking along a dark corridor that leads to a dead end. Despite the ongoing construction, existing tenants are staying put, although they say business has dropped by as much as 50 per cent since renovations began.Gim Sports, a gymnastics centre for kids and adults, has been at Turf City since 2005. It was the area's rustic charm and central location that attracted it to open there, says its director Jennifer Stimpson. She considered moving her business elsewhere but "it is difficult to find places with high ceilings and we have built up a strong clientele here", she says.Dennis Ang, director of Sunflower Baby House, an infant and childcare centre, says business has dropped by about 20 per cent. "With the dust and noise from the construction, not every parent is willing to leave their children here," he says. He relies on a loyal group of parents to keep his business running. "They understand that things are beyond my control."Existing tenants say they are hopeful that things will get better when renovations are done. "The inconveniences are temporary and when everything is complete, hopefully people will be drawn back to the area and the place will be buzzing," says Lai Han Seng, chief operations officer and vice-principal of JH Kim Taekwondo Institute.The transformation of Turf City to The Grandstand began when Cogent Land Capital, a subsidiary of Cogent Holdings won the bid for the grandstands, main carpark, and hill carpark area last October. Cogent Land's three-year tenancy started in March and can be renewed for another three years.The Grandstand used to be the home of the Bukit Timah Turf Club, until it moved to Kranji in 1999. Singapore Agro Agricultural took over the lease of the building in 2001. Little was done to revamp the building, which was looking its age.
But under its tenure, Giant Hypermart opened in 2002, along with one of Singapore's largest car malls, with over 150 showrooms. Both are still there, although talk is that business is much quieter now. When BT Weekend visited Giant during the week, the produce looked fresh and apart from the retirees, housewives, and expatriates shopping for groceries, the odd sparrow was spotted in one of the aisles.Turf City was also known for its seafood restaurants, including Ah Yat Seafood Restaurant, Unique Seafood Market, and Owen Seafood Restaurant. At lunch time, diners were going about picking out the live fish and crabs. While they have survived, other businesses that have come and gone include The Furniture Mall, The Body Shop, and BreadTalk.With its close proximity to the Bukit Timah residential area, the place has become a hot spot among expats. Existing businesses say that close to half of their clientele are expats. Retail experts are placing their bets that The Grandstand will come out a winner.Allan Chia, head of marketing, at UniSIM's School of Business, says that The Grandstand's proximity to the nearby landed and condominium residences and top schools in the area, "enables it to capture multiple layers of demand".For example, students can head here for various activities. "Parents who shuttle their kids over want ample parking and places to go to pass the time," he says. "From the business point of view, The Grandstand translates into a captive market of shoppers, as there is no neighbouring mall to distract them and it becomes a one-stop place to complete weekly shopping needs and also have a family meal."Lynda Wee, adjunct associate professor in retailing at Nanyang Technological University's Nanyang Business School, suggests that a farmer's market or weekend craft markets can also be held at The Grandstand. "When you have the size, you can offer more choices," she says.Bukit Timah residents are looking forward to The Grandstand's opening. Baker Teo Pau Lin shops at Giant once a week. With most of the area now under construction, she notes that things have gotten quieter and that parking is easier to find. "But I'm excited to have more food options and activities in my area," she says.Accountant Koh Peng Ean has been going to Gim Sports for the last four years, where her daughter does gymnastics training. "For the first time, there is effort to spruce up the building. There is hope that the new Turf City will shape up well," she says.
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