S'pore's first regional centre presses on

Tampines Mall (above), which opened in 1996, has gone through several cycles of refurbishment, including a makeover of its facade, the addition of a covered linkway to the MRT station and introducing an education hub on level five. Additional renovat
Tampines Mall (above), which opened in 1996, has gone through several cycles of refurbishment, including a makeover of its facade, the addition of a covered linkway to the MRT station and introducing an education hub on level five. Additional renovation work is expected to be done by early next year. PHOTO: CAPITALAND
Developments like 11 Tampines Concourse (above) could stay competitive, given more flexibility in how they could be used, says CDL.
Developments like 11 Tampines Concourse (above) could stay competitive, given more flexibility in how they could be used, says CDL. PHOTO: CDL

Tampines, once a sleepy far-flung neighbourhood, is today a vibrant commercial hub - teeming with activity through the day and evening.

It was Singapore's first regional centre and now has 200,000 sq m of office space and 112,000 sq m of retail space, according to the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA).

Although it is the nation's original regional centre, Tampines is likely to keep with the times and continue to evolve, even as newer, shinier peers pop up in Jurong, Woodlands and Seletar in the future.

The URA sees potential in reviewing the land use, urban design guidelines and road network in Tampines Regional Centre to "cater to anticipated needs of different users, guide future developments, and enhance public space".

Since the 1990s, Tampines residents have enjoyed a wider range of amenities, which have brought greater convenience to their doorstep.

"When I first moved here, there were two malls, which have since been renovated. A third mall also opened some years back, so it's definitely more convenient. But dealing with the crowd can be frustrating," says Madam Low Sock Choo, 66, a resident for the past 12 years or so.

One of those malls - Tampines Mall, which opened in 1996 - belongs to CapitaLand.

Tampines Mall has undergone several rounds of refurbishment, including a makeover of its facade, adding a covered linkway to the MRT station and introducing an education hub on level five. Additional renovation work is set to be finished early next year.

"The sizeable population catchments of the regional centres underscore their attractiveness to retailers and underpin the resilience of retail rents in the shopping malls located in these areas," notes Mr Jason Leow, chief executive of CapitaLand Mall Asia.

Retail offerings aside, Tampines Regional Centre has shaped up as a base for major banks' back-office functions, complementing nearby Changi Business Park, which houses many high-technology firms and data and software enterprises.

OCBC Bank and United Overseas Bank (UOB) - which still have presence in the Central Business District (CBD) - moved to Tampines in 2002.

UOB has more than 400 staff working in Tampines, while OCBC has 2,000 workers based there. "Setting up our operations in Tampines forms part of our business continuity plan to establish an alternative operating base," says Mr Eugene Lau, head of group technology services at OCBC.

Both banks offer free daily shuttle bus service to help staff defray transport costs. "An added bonus for employees living in the east is that Tampines Regional Centre is closer to home and offers cheaper parking (than in the CBD)," notes UOB head of human resources Jenny Wong.

The influx of firms into Tampines spurred demand for office space and presented real estate opportunities for developers, and City Developments (CDL) snapped up land sites in Tampines Grande and Tampines Concourse when they were launched for sale in 2007.

The total gross floor area at 7 and 9 Tampines Grande and 11 Tampines Concourse is 36,410 sq m, and the offices have an occupancy rate of about 98 per cent, CDL says.

"One way to enable current developments in mature regional centres to remain competitive could be to offer owners flexibility to propose a different usage for their buildings or to increase the gross plot ratio intensity," says CDL's spokesman.

Given the fairly large presence of banks in Tampines, analysts say the growth of the fintech sector bears careful watching. Cushman & Wakefield's research director Christine Li notes: "Trends are evolving and back-office banking jobs could be threatened by the rise of fintech. Should the banking sector suffer due to that, then our Tampines Regional Centre might face challenges."

An upcoming development is a new town hub, which will include facilities such as a football pitch, a library, shops, a hawker centre and a community health centre.

Transport connectivity in Tampines will also be enhanced when phase three of the Downtown Line is completed next year, adding two new stations in the area: Tampines East and Tampines West.

Wong Siew Ying

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 03, 2016, with the headline 'S'pore's first regional centre presses on'. Print Edition | Subscribe