Raffles Hotel revamp leaves some tenants in the lurch

Raffles Hotel announced the restoration works on Tuesday. The revamp will be done in three phases, starting in January with the Arcade, a public area that houses 40 shops, function areas, restaurants and bars.
Raffles Hotel announced the restoration works on Tuesday. The revamp will be done in three phases, starting in January with the Arcade, a public area that houses 40 shops, function areas, restaurants and bars.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

They must leave in 3 months, miss key CNY season, with no priority for return

Some tenants at Raffles Hotel are up in arms over having to vacate their premises at short notice for a revamp of the building.

But it is not just the short three months' notice that has upset them.

They have to leave by Jan 16, two weeks shy of Chinese New Year, when sales tend to be higher.

Raffles Hotel Singapore announced the restoration works on Tuesday, the same day that the tenants were told they would need to leave.

The luxury hotel said in response to queries yesterday that tenants' concerns, such as that over falling footfall and the condition of the Arcade, will be kept in mind when the revamp is being done.

"We have been actively speaking to our tenants individually, listening to their concerns, to discuss their needs and plans," said the hotel's general manager, Mr Simon Hirst.

The revamp will be done in three phases, starting in January with the Arcade, a public area that houses 40 shops, function areas, restaurants and bars.

While the three-month period follows terms in a tenancy agreement, the short time given to move out, find a new space and renovate it is "unfair", tenants told The Straits Times .

They said a six-month notice period would have made the "shocking" news more palatable.

"I agree that the hotel is due for a restoration as it is getting tired. But I am just so disappointed with the way this issue has been handled," said Mrs Fong Loo Fern, managing director of tailoring business CYC The Custom Shop.

Like other tenants, she was unhappy with the timing of the move. Mrs Fong, who is in her 60s and whose shop has been at the hotel for 20 years, said she sees as much as a 50 per cent increase in sales in the lead-up to Chinese New Year, compared with other months.

With no guarantee that they can return after the renovations, tenants want at least a two-week extension so they can cash in on Chinese New Year sales, and make arrangements to move out during the lull after that.

Most tenants are scrambling to find new spaces, but at least one has already found a new place.

Mr Kantaro Suzuki, 41, owner of hair salon Kizuki+Lim, said he decided to move out as early as possible as there was little else he could do.

He expects to start the new year at the new location, but he lamented spending $10,000 to renovate his two units at Raffles Hotel just last month.

Others, who renewed their lease recently, or opened their shops a few months ago, asked why they were not told earlier even though plans for the restoration were in the works for some time.

In reply, Mr Hirst told ST the management could not share details with stakeholders, including tenants, before the restoration plans and construction schedules were confirmed "very recently".

Knowing that the owners have the right to boot them out in three months, some tenants are resigned to the situation.

"I am not going to fight this. I am just saddened by their lack of heart," said Mrs Joni Ong, 56, managing director of Japanese restaurant Shinji by Kanesaka, who opened her eatery at the hotel 61/2 years ago.

Those hoping to return after the 16-month revamp are appealing for a "priority list".

They include Mr Goh Kim Tuan, 51, general manager of Kim.T Fine Jewellers and Artsseni by Kim T, who said his brands are intertwined with the prestigious location.

"It takes a long time to develop a brand, and people identify mine with Raffles Hotel. I don't want to lose that," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 15, 2016, with the headline 'Raffles Hotel revamp leaves some tenants in the lurch'. Print Edition | Subscribe