Local firm 'very close' to buying troubled Singapore Flyer

The troubled Singapore Flyer is within touching distance of a new owner after months of operating under receivership. -- PHOTO: ST FILE
The troubled Singapore Flyer is within touching distance of a new owner after months of operating under receivership. -- PHOTO: ST FILE

Sources say Straco Corp, which is in the tourism business, is expected to make an announcement soon.

The troubled Singapore Flyer is within touching distance of a new owner after months of operating under receivership.

Sources told The Straits Times yesterday that Straco Corporation - a Singapore-listed company in the tourism business - is "very close" to inking a deal to buy the wheel, with an announcement expected in the coming days.

Straco is no stranger to running prominent profitable tourist attractions: It is behind several well-known venues in China, such as the Shanghai Ocean Aquarium and Underwater World Xiamen.

Earlier this month, it posted a 7.4 per cent rise in quarterly net profit to $8.33 million, with revenue up 20.1 per cent to $19.7 million, due to double-digit growth in visitorship at the two aquariums in China.

Straco shares have been surging steadily since last year, soaring from as low as 26 cents in January last year to close at 82 cents yesterday. The firm called for a trading halt yesterday evening.

The company, whose market value is around $700 million, is headed by founder and executive chairman Wu Hsioh Kwang, a prominent local businessman.

Mr Wu is chairman of the culture, education and community affairs committee at the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and vice-chairman of tourism and leisure for the Chinese business group at the Singapore Business Federation.

The $240 million Flyer came under the spotlight in May last year when the company behind the now six-year-old attraction was placed in receivership. It was eventually put up for sale, with advertisements appearing in major newspapers such as The Wall Street Journal in the United States.

Various parties were suggested as possible buyers.

In July last year, Merlin Entertainments Group, the British firm behind the London Eye - a similar attraction - said it was weighing an offer but reportedly dropped out in May.

In June, the founder of nightspot Zouk told The Sunday Times that the Flyer could be the ideal location for the club, which is looking for a new home.

Mr Lincoln Cheng said the club would also have longer operating hours if it moved to the Flyer as a tenant.

Last week, he said that he would be willing to spend $20 million to $30 million to build a new site for Zouk at the Flyer.

Apart from being on the fringe of the Central Business District, the Flyer is a five-minute walk from Promenade MRT station. There is also a multi-storey carpark nearby with close to 300 spaces and a special coach bay for 25 tour buses.

alfoo@sph.com.sg