The iconic Lau Pa Sat closes from today for a $4 million facelift.
When it reopens in November, it will feature more alfresco dining options, a Japanese bakery and better ventilation.
The facelift is meant to help the ageing food centre keep up with its increasingly modern neighbours, said Mr Alden Tan, managing director of Kopitiam, which owns the building.
A popular lunch spot for office workers, Lau Pa Sat - which means old market in Hokkien - was completed in 1894 at its present Raffles Quay site and is a gazetted national monument. This is its first major renovation in the 17 years since Kopitiam took over.
Local firm DP Architects, which was behind projects such as People's Park Complex and the Esplanade, has been commissioned to carry out the work.
While Lau Pa Sat's Victorian-era cast-iron structure will remain largely untouched, the centre's layout will be rearranged, said Mr Tan.
The eight streets that cut across the centre will be reconstructed, and a new internal walkway connecting the streets will be added to allow for better air and traffic flow.
"The problem with the old layout was that it did not allow for lateral movement," said Mr Tan. "When you want to transfer from a street to another, you have to walk to the centre core and out again."
Lau Pa Sat's distinctive cream- coloured clock tower, which stopped working some time ago, will be repaired. Inside, the metal columns will be painted a rustic green to highlight details of the structure, and a stage will be built for live performances.
Some of Lau Pa Sat's neighbours are also getting a revamp. The former Market Street carpark nearby is being redeveloped into CapitaGreen, a 40-storey office tower. A 135-room boutique hotel, Sofitel So Hotel, is slated to open in December opposite Lau Pa Sat.
Said Mr Tan: "We have to make sure we keep up with the times and our surroundings."
The tenant mix, too, will be reviewed to cater to changing consumer tastes. Six new restaurants at the fringe of the centre will offer alfresco seating. An upmarket 2,000 sq ft Japanese bakery will cater to the office crowd, who form the bulk of Lau Pa Sat's estimated 15,000 customers on weekdays.
Staying on are the seafood restaurants along Boon Tat Street, and the satay street, which features 10 pushcarts hawking sticks of charcoal-grilled meat.
Plans for more pushcarts selling other varieties of street food are in the works. Local food will still make up about 80 per cent of the food options, said Mr Tan.
The rejuvenation is "timely, in view of Singapore's evolving food and beverage scene", said Ms Ranita Sundramoorthy, director of attractions, dining and retail at the Singapore Tourism Board, which has been working closely with the Lau Pa Sat management on this project.
The total number of tenants will be reduced to accommodate a more spacious layout. The final list is not out yet but more than half of the current 70 are expected to stay.
One of those moving out is RNR Curry Chicken Noodle, which has been operating there for three years. "Business has been good but we're afraid the new rental will be too high for our small stall," said its co-owner Rohaya Hassan, 49.
The Indian Curry stall will stay on. Mr Churchill Parthiban, 19, whose family owns the stall, said: "We have confidence in the quality of the food."
Regular customers The Sunday Times spoke to said they will miss the large variety of reasonably priced food during the two months of renovations.
Software consultant Vivek Shettigar, 29, who eats at Lau Pa Sat almost every weekday, is looking forward to better air circulation. "It gets hot when there are a lot of people at lunchtime," he said.
Human resource consultant Janice Pennefather, 58, said: "It is looking a bit old. But I hope its essence as a historic landmark will be kept."