Waves of change at East Coast Park

The former Ski360°Cableski Park, once a popular haunt for watersports enthusiasts. The area has quietened down considerably following Ski360°’s closure in November last year. The site has a new operator and is being revamped to become an upgraded
The former Ski360°Cableski Park, once a popular haunt for watersports enthusiasts. The area has quietened down considerably following Ski360°’s closure in November last year. The site has a new operator and is being revamped to become an upgraded cable ski facility. ST PHOTOS: CHEW SENG KIM
Parkland Green, which has eateries, cafes and retail spaces on a 4ha plot, is one of the recent developments in East Coast Park.
Parkland Green, which has eateries, cafes and retail spaces on a 4ha plot, is one of the recent developments in East Coast Park.
Cyclists at Big Splash, which was built in 1977 as a water theme park and redeveloped in 2007 as a lifestyle hub. Its business has reportedly taken a hit since Parkland Green opened.
Cyclists at Big Splash, which was built in 1977 as a water theme park and redeveloped in 2007 as a lifestyle hub. Its business has reportedly taken a hit since Parkland Green opened.

New projects, amenities in store for visitors

EXCITEMENT rippled through the waters of the former East Coast Park lagoon in 2006 when it transformed into Singapore's first cable ski park.

Passers-by would gather to gasp at wakeboarders and water- skiers as they performed flips and the occasional wipeout.

Today, the waves of change are lapping once more at the edges of the former lagoon.

Last November, the Ski360° Cableski Park was closed after eight years. The site has a new operator and is being renovated to become an upgraded cable ski facility, said Mr Chia Seng Jiang, director of parks at the National Parks Board (NParks). The date of completion has not been confirmed.

Change is a constant at East Coast Park, Singapore's most popular beach park with more than seven million visitors a year, and the biggest at 185ha.

Well-loved places in the park have come and gone, with many refurbishments since the park opened in the 1970s.

Mr Alwi Hassan, 56, a rigger who has visited the park since he was young, said: "The facilities have improved for sure, but I miss the old McDonald's." The eatery, which opened in 1982 and closed in 2012, was one of the rare drive-through McDonald's outlets here and an iconic meeting point.

In March, Red House Seafood, a fixture at the East Coast Seafood Centre for the past 30 years, closed to make way for a landscaped lawn. Also gone from the centre are No Signboard Seafood and Fisherman's Village, whose leases have expired. A new eatery, Enak Enak Hong Kong Tea House, opened in April.

Mr Sunny Goh, 54, manager of Red House Seafood, said: "There were eight restaurants when the centre first opened in 1985, and we did well through the 80s and 90s with many tourists, but the crowds thinned by about 35 per cent in the past two years."

He added: "These days, I still walk around the area and have nice memories of customers enjoying their meals at Red House. But I accept that this is over."

It is not just eating places, but sports facilities like the former Marine Bowling alley at Marine Cove are missed by some as well.

Student Pareen Chaudhari, 18, said: "I miss the old bowling alley. My friends would meet there to celebrate our birthdays."

Student Mohammad Rizuan, 22, said: "When I was younger, East Coast Park was a lot more natural. Now, it has become a mall with trees and grass in between instead of a park with the occasional shop and convenience store."

However, NParks said park users need not fret about the loss of green spaces. Mr Chia said enhancements at Marine Cove include more open green spaces for visitors, a playground and a mix of dining and recreational facilities. These are slated to be completed in the middle of next year.

A new development already open is Parkland Green, which has eateries, cafes and retail spaces on a 4ha plotconverted from the Parkland Golf Driving Range.

Mr Raj Patro, owner of Patro's Sports Bar and Restaurant, said: "NParks has done a good job at Parkland Green in choosing a good mix of tenants that complement each other. Our business has been growing every day."

He welcomes the upcoming amenities and businesses in East Coast. "The more the merrier - there is an ample market here."

Hawkers at the East Coast Lagoon Food Village are also unfazed, saying their business has generally not been affected by the new developments. "We have a strong base of regular customers who keep us going," said Madam Harlina Haron, 42, owner of the famous Haron Satay.

But other businesses, like those at Big Splash, felt less optimistic. The former water theme park built in 1977 saw incoming traffic rise threefold after it was redeveloped in 2007 as a lifestyle hub, said its general manager, Mr Gino Koh. But since the opening of Parkland Green last September, business has taken a hit.

"Our vehicle volume has decreased by about 20 to 30 per cent since their opening. This is probably because our parking is chargeable while theirs is free at the moment," he added. Big Splash's current lease also expires towards the end of next year.

"We really hope our lease can be extended, upon which we will further refurbish Big Splash to be more competitive," said Mr Koh.

The new developments have brought uncertainty for some, as well as the loss of dearly held landmarks for many. But some people welcome the changes.

Mrs Linda Chia, 54, a housewife who walks in the park once a week, said: "I like Parkland Green and its sprawling architecture. It's much nicer than the usual clustered buildings in Singapore."

Housewife Yvonne Cheong, 44, a mother of two, said: "The park these days is a lot more family-oriented. You can rent many different types of bikes - the four-wheel bike makes it a lot easier for families with young children to cycle."

Despite its changing face, the park retains its allure for visitors of varying ages and interests.

A 62-year-old retiree, who gave his name only as Mr Latif, has been going there on weekends to fish for the last 30 years.

"It's quiet here and there is a strong sense of camaraderie. Everyone minds his own business until someone catches a big fish, then people will go to help him with it," he said.

For kiteboarding instructor Vincent Lam, 48, the park is where he goes to do kiteboarding, which combines paragliding, wakeboarding and windsurfing, especially during the monsoon season. "There are only two places in Singapore where you can do this because of the wind direction," he said, adding that Changi Beach Park is the other place.

As student Keertikaa Manogarann, 13, summed up: "You can do so many things here - cycling, rollerblading, volleyball. It's great."

timgoh@sph.com.sg

wderek@sph.com.sg

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 19, 2015, with the headline 'Waves of change at East Coast Park'. Print Edition | Subscribe