Efforts to freshen up S'pore River area win recognition

Mr Wilson Tan, chairman of the Singapore River One - an organisation of business owners - has won the Place Champion award.
Mr Wilson Tan, chairman of the Singapore River One - an organisation of business owners - has won the Place Champion award.

Once known for its touts and drunks, the Singapore River area has had its image cleaned over the past three years.

Touting along Boat Quay has gone down, a pedestrian-friendly Circular Road has drawn more crowds, and murals have been installed in the underpasses along the river to give them a fresh look.

These initiatives by the Singapore River One (SRO) - an organisation comprising business owners - won its chairman Wilson Tan, 57, the Place Champion award yesterday.

The award is given out by the Place Management Coordinating Forum (PMCF), an inter-agency group comprising the National Arts Council, National Heritage Board, Singapore Tourism Board, Urban Redevelopment Authority, National Parks Board and Sports Singapore.

The award recognises individuals from the private sector who have made significant contributions to their respective precincts through place management.

More people visited Boat Quay, Robertson Quay and Clarke Quay last year. Footfall to the area was 1.5 million a week, up 16 per cent from the 1.3 million weekly in 2013, according to SRO.

"Mr Tan's passion to transform the Singapore River precinct into a unique destination is evident in the various initiatives he has driven," said Mr Ng Lang, chief executive of the Urban Redevelopment Authority and chairman of PMCF.

He added: "Although SRO is a fairly young association, it has demonstrated its capabilities to lead stakeholders to boost the attractiveness and competitiveness of the precinct." SRO, which has 65 members, started with 20 members in 2012. Getting the roughly 500 property owners and 700 business operators in the area to work towards one vision "was tough", said Mr Tan, who is also chief executive of CapitaLand Mall Trust Management.

SRO's management went door to door to convince a "very disparate" group to think long-term, he said. "They were evangelists. They were going out to share the vision that the Singapore River is... for every visitor and it's a place that we can call our heritage."

Their efforts to liven up the Singapore River led to notable successes. Foot traffic to Circular Road grew by 45 per cent since November 2013, when a plan to turn it car-free on weekend nights took off.

Next year, Boat Quay will undergo a $5 million makeover to make it less cluttered and more friendly to visitors, a project proposed by SRO and funded fully by the URA.

From Oct 23 to 25, the organisation will hold, for the first time, the Singapore River Festival, a carnival featuring a troupe from Spain similar to the Canadian circus arts act, Cirque du Soleil, said Mr Tan.

Going forward, SRO hopes to involve more stakeholders, he said. "What we've been able to get is a little bit of groundswell, of a sense of ownership of the place itself. The best is yet to come."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 09, 2015, with the headline 'Efforts to freshen up S'pore River area win recognition'. Print Edition | Subscribe