Arts groups uneasy over Waterloo Street centre's end of lease

Occupants of 222+51 worry about having to move out of vibrant Bras Basah-Bugis area next year when lease ends

Tenants occupying the premises of the former Catholic High School, located along Queen Street and Waterloo Street, may have to move after their nine-year lease ends in August next year.

The four-storey building, named 222+51 as it has two entrances - on 222 Queen Street and 51 Waterloo Street - belongs to the Singapore Land Authority (SLA).

It houses 16 tenants, mainly arts and heritage groups such as dance school Singapore Ballet Academy and music group The A Cappella Society.

There are also non-arts tenants such as outdoor gear shop Campers' Corner and restaurant Fine Palate.

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In 2008, SLA worked with the National Heritage Board (NHB) to seek private parties interested to develop the building into an arts centre. It was awarded to real estate developer and Catholic High School alumnus Daniel Teo in 2009 on a nine-year lease.

Tenants say they have heard that a possible future use for the building was to convert it into an office for NHB staff.

In a joint statement issued exclusively to The Straits Times, NHB and SLA say that NHB had considered 222+51 "as a possible site for its corporate office".

222+51, which houses mainly arts and heritage groups, is set in the former Catholic High School.
222+51, which houses mainly arts and heritage groups, is set in the former Catholic High School. PHOTO: 222 QUEEN STREET

"However, upon closer assessment, NHB found it unsuitable for this use. Hence, SLA will be working with the relevant agencies in assessing the future plans for the site," they add.

The 81-year-old building retains the classroom doors and grills of the old boys' school. It also sports colourful murals.

Tenants say they are worried about having to move out of the vibrant Bras Basah-Bugis area, which is located near museums and arts institutions.

They now enjoy rental rates below the market rate.

Singapore Ballet Academy has been in the building since 2009 and has about 450 students.

"People come here for the location - it's very central. If we have to move, financially it will be difficult for us. We might lose half our students," says its principal Han KeeJuan, 59.

Music school Forte Musicademy has expanded its space three times since it opened in the building in 2010. Last year, it added a recital hall, which musicians can hire for performances.

One of its owners, Ms Karen Wong, 39, praised the "sense of community" among the tenants.

She says: "We're close-knit. Our students go to Singapore Ballet Academy, for example, and their parents go to the cafe at Campers' Corner - we're all interconnected. I hope we can continue to stay here."

Mr Tay Kunming, 34, director of The Gem Museum, a privately owned museum of gems and minerals, recently spent about $15,000 renovating his second-floor space in conjunction with its second anniversary.

"It's not about the money. It's about the community. It's a waste if we have to move," he says, adding that the museum has been part of events in the precinct, such as the Singapore Night Festival.

"Heritage is so easily lost. When you lose it, you lose it."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 02, 2017, with the headline 'Arts centre tenants uneasy over end of lease'. Print Edition | Subscribe