Stalled Changi race track project may get new start

Tycoons keen to restart work; proposal submitted to S'pore Sports Council

Efforts are under way to restart the stalled Changi Motorsports Hub project, driven by parties which include marina tycoon Arthur Tay and venture capitalist Tommie Goh.

Mr Tay said he has submitted a proposal to the Singapore Sports Council (SSC), the body whose first attempt at getting the race track project off the ground crashed in 2011 when a Japanese-led consortium that won the bid ran out of money.

He has the backing of fellow tycoon Tommie Goh, a motorsports fan and avid car collector, and was among those keen on the project when the Government floated the idea in 2007. But it is said he backed out because conditions were too onerous.

"We're business people," Mr Tay told The Straits Times this week. "If we can't make money, we won't go in.

"The Government must want to have a motorsports hub. If they put the risks solely on the operator, I don't think it can work."

Observers say land cost is the biggest hurdle.

SG Changi, the party picked by the SSC in 2010 to build the hub and helmed by Japanese temple builder Fuminori Murahashi, paid $36 million for the 41ha plot, which has a 30-year lease.

Together with construction cost - which observers say is high because the site requires extensive piling as it is on reclaimed land - the bill came up to $380 million.

The SSC would not say how many responses it had received since putting out a request for information four months ago. When pressed, it would only say the "market-sounding exercise" had ended, and that the council "is currently in consultation with other agencies".

"We will make an announcement soon," its spokesman said.

The SSC seemed to have all but given up on Singapore's first permanent race circuit project. In a "market awareness brochure" it distributed last August, it made no mention of motorsports for the site but instead said it was looking for a "sports and lifestyle concept".

But Mr Goh said he sensed a renewed interest when news broke last December that billionaire Peter Lim was building a $1.2 billion motorsports facility on a 110ha freehold site in Johor's Iskandar.

Singapore Motor Sports Association president Tan Teng Lip, for one, is hoping against hope that the Changi track will materialise.

He said the Iskandar circuit may be nearby, but "it's still in another country".

Mr Tan is confident a motorsports hub is commercially viable in Singapore if it is seen as more than just a race circuit. "As purely a sports venue, it probably won't work. But if you see it as complementing the motor industry, and as a venue for community engagement, it will," he said.

Observers say the hub could be used by several vehicle makers here for tropical testing, as well as for regional car launches. "It has to be the whole eco-system, not just sports," Mr Tan added.

Other parties are not so sure. Leisure and health-care group Haw Par Corp, which lost to SG Changi in the first bid to build the circuit, has not taken part in the SSC's latest request for information.

Mr Barry Kan, chief executive of FASTrack Autosports, the group behind the Iskandar motorsports facility, said there may be more hurdles to the Changi project.

One is a legal tussle that might surface as SG Changi seeks a refund on what it paid for the land. The other has to do with Changi Airport's plans for a new runway, which may impinge on the location of the circuit.

The tenure of the land may be another issue, as five years may have passed when the project is tendered out again. Also, the site is littered with steel piles, many driven into the ground and which will have to be pulled out before construction can start anew.

But if the project does get off the ground, Mr Kan is not worried about the presence of another track in Johor. "I don't see it as competition. The people who drive in Changi will say, 'let's go try Iskandar'."

christan@sph.com.sg