Shopping at Ion Orchard during blue hour on 6 September 2013, in Singapore from Shutterstock.com

A new Orchard Road on the horizon, says Senior Minister Chee Hong Tat

Orchard Road is in line for a revamp, says Senior Minister of State for Ministry of Trade & Industry Chee Hong Tat at ITB Asia 2018 on 17th October. As part of the latest strategies to attract tourist to Singapore, Mr Chee said that plans are being made to transform Singapore’s famed Orchard Road into more than just a shopping hotspot.

Among the ideas being considered include turning it into an ‘innovation district’ where start-ups and social enterprises can call home, using the area as a place to test out new ideas for retail concepts, environmental sustainability and urban logistics.

Another idea is to expand on the ‘Orchard’ idea and turn the entire precint into an urban garden where visitors can escape the concrete jungle outside – much like Central Park in New York.

Mr Chee said, “Orchard Road can go beyond a road, to be an orchard in the city. It can be more than a shopping district to include a range of exciting activities and unique attractions that appeal to visitors, both tourists and locals.”

Now, this isn’t the first time that an Orchard Road revamp was proposed. Relevant stakeholders have been trying to rejuvenate the shopping belt for years now. The Ministry of Trade & Industry even invited suggestions from the public to gather ideas on how to revive Orchard Road way back in 2015 .

Public response to Senior Minister Chee’s latest announced has been on the cynical side so far with many people feeling less than excited about money being spent to reinvent just another shopping destination that is too expensive for locals anyway.

Still, there were some more optimistic netizens who were looking forward to a new Orchard Road and chimed in with suggestions of their own:

Even so, there are other ways to approach this issue. Ku Swee Yong, CEO of International Property Advisor proposed in article last year on Storm.sg that we move beyond the ‘retail’ concept of Orchard Road altogether. Bringing up an important point that more and more people are opting for online shopping over traditional malls, so simply adding a bigger variety of retail outlets in Orchard Road will not necessarily have the effect everyone is hoping for.

Instead, Mr Ku suggested moving beyond retail and tapping into the healthcare and education market instead to help boost the medical tourism industry in Singapore and provide a more comprehensive range of educational services.

“About 1.5 million sqft, or 20% of the total lettable area of Orchard Road retail space, could be pre-approved to accommodate a wide range of primary care such as specialist clinics, medical diagnostics, cosmetics, traditional medicines, etc. and allied-care such as therapy and counselling, post-surgery rehabilitation services, nutrition consultants, physiology, etc.”

“We envision another 20% of Orchard Road’s 7.5 million sqft of retail space be filled with education services such as enrichment and music classes, tuition centres for students undertaking formal education, playschools for infants and children, skills training centres for working adults, private education centres with formal certificate programmes, experiential learning providers, multi-modal online-offline symposium facilities, etc..”

In Q1 207, there as approximately 550,000 sq ft of vacant retail space in Orchard Road, which is about 70%. So maybe Mr Ku is on to something with his proposal of shifting the use of Orchard Road from primarily is a ‘shopper’s paradise’ to a more holistic, multi-dimensional hub for healthcare and education, supported by retail.

For now, Senior Minister Mr Chee notes that plans are being formulated by various government agencies, business owners, and industry players, and will be unveiled in greater detail once they are ready.