Church builds $50m arts hub in Bukit Merah

Mr Ban Jiun Ean (left), Gateway Entertainment's deputy chief executive, and Mr James Tan, chairman of the building committee and deputy executive director of Touch Community Services, at the site of the new centre.
Mr Ban Jiun Ean (left), Gateway Entertainment's deputy chief executive, and Mr James Tan, chairman of the building committee and deputy executive director of Touch Community Services, at the site of the new centre.PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
The facilities at the Gateway Theatre include a 300-seater black box theatre space and a dance studio.
An artist's impression of the 950-seat, three-storey-high theatre (above), which will be part of the new arts venue in Bukit Merah Central.PHOTO: ONG AND ONG
An artist's impression of the 950-seat, three- storey-high theatre (far left), which will be part of the new arts venue in Bukit Merah Central (left).
An artist's impression of the 950-seat, three-storey-high theatre, which will be part of the new arts venue in Bukit Merah Central (above).PHOTO: ONG AND ONG

Faith Community Baptist Church's centre with mid-size theatre to open next year

An arts venue being built by the Faith Community Baptist Church (FCBC) will open in Bukit Merah Central early next year.

Costing about $50 million, the nine-storey building will house facilities similar to those in major performance venues such as the Esplanade, said its operator, Gateway Entertainment, a production entertainment firm founded by the church's pastor, Mr Lawrence Khong.

These include a movable orchestra pit, a 10m stage and a stage lift for its 950-seat, three-storey-high theatre, said Gateway Entertainment deputy chief executive Ban Jiun Ean.

Called Gateway Theatre, it will be rented out to arts groups on weekdays. Church services will take place on weekends.

The new building, which replaces the three-storey Touch Community Theatre at the same site, is largely funded by church members, who have contributed more than $29.5 million to the project so far. Work started in April last year.

Mr Ban said Gateway Theatre will bring the arts to the western part of Singapore and give performing groups the option of staging shows at an affordable mid-size space.

Other mid-size venues here include Capitol Theatre, with its 900 seats, and Republic Polytechnic's Cultural Centre, which has a 1,000-seat theatre. Venues at the Esplanade and Marina Bay Sands seat about 2,000 people each, while larger spaces, such as the Singapore Indoor Stadium, take about 12,000.

In 2012, New Creation Church's business arm, Rock Productions, opened the $500-million Star Performing Arts Centre in Buona Vista, with fund contributions from members. It has a 5,000-seat auditorium, which is also a venue for hire.

Other features at Gateway Theatre include a 300-seater black box theatre space with an LED wall, a dance studio and a sky terrace with public access.

Mr Ban said it will also likely be home to an arts school, which will run programmes such as dance classes for 50 to 100 underprivileged children and youth at risk.

Gateway Entertainment was founded 15 years ago by Mr Khong to transform the arts and entertainment industry and "to bring good values into peoples' lives", said Mr Ban.

The church's website also said that Gateway Entertainment aims to reach those in the arts and entertainment industry , "many of whom are LGBTs (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) and many of whom would not come to church".

Designed by architectural firm Ong and Ong, the new building sits on land that was zoned for commercial use and bought by the church in the late 1990s on a 99-year lease.

It has a gross floor area of 4,550 sq m, almost twice as big as the Touch Community Theatre, which was used by the church and its charity arm, Touch Community Services, for more than 15 years. The building was originally home to the Dalit Theatre, which screened Tamil movies in the 1980s.

The old building was rundown and had maintenance issues, said Mr James Tan, chairman of the building committee and deputy executive director of Touch Community Services. "Rather than keep the old building in land-scarce Singapore, we decided to construct an arts venue that will be well utilised on weekdays. Revenue will go into running the site," he said.

Mr Tan said rental rates have yet to be decided but will be "reasonable". "We won't overcharge. We're not about investments and there are no shareholders," he said.

The congregation currently worships at two other venues - its Marine Parade Central Touchcentre and at Suntec City. The church was established in 1986.

Mr Tan believes the project is timely as it can inject more life into Bukit Merah Central.

FCBC member Ada Chua, 24, a law student, said church members like her are supportive of the project.

"Pastor Khong has been accountable and clear about the aim of the building. The new building will build up interest in the arts and make it accessible to those in the west," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 28, 2015, with the headline 'Church builds $50m arts hub in Bukit Merah'. Print Edition | Subscribe