Pearls Centre tenants surprised by acquisition for new Thomson Line

Most unaware of acquisition of complex for new Thomson Line

News of the Government's impending acquisition of Pearls Centre on Thursday took tenants and residents by surprise.

Neither shopowners, residents nor the building's management saw the move coming, with most of them saying they have no choice but to accept it.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) said it would acquire the centre in Eu Tong Sen Street to build the new Thomson Line.

The Chinatown complex will be torn down and a high-density, mixed-use development built in its place. A Thomson Line tunnel will run under part of the building, said the LTA.

That new development will be integrated with Outram Park station, an interchange station for the East-West Line, North-East Line and Thomson Line.

Pearls Centre's 243 tenants have two years to move out. The Singapore Land Authority said they will be compensated according to the market value of their properties.

TCM Chinese Medicines managing director Lim Chin Kiat, 81, said the announcement was "very sudden" and expressed concern about finding a new store for his business.

"My business has been good all these years. If I move, how will my customers look for me?" he said. "The demolition is quite a pity, especially with the long history of Pearls Centre."

The 23-storey building is a strata-titled property with a 99-year lease that began in 1969. It has a wide range of shops including hair salons, eateries, tailors, massage parlours and traditional Chinese medicine clinics.

There are also 11 floors of residential units.

Ms Helen Tai, a property executive for the building management, said Pearls Centre was to be put up for an en bloc sale and discussions were at a preliminary stage.

A committee was formed last month, and to date all residents and landlords have proceeded with the valuation process, she said.

The complex also houses the Yangtze Cinema, known for its R21 films. Mr Richard Sng, who has worked at the cinema for two years, said its patrons comprise mostly elderly men.

"When we change movies every Thursday, they will come. Some watch movies the whole day to pass the time. It's almost like an elderly home," he said.

In recent years, shopowners have complained that the management failed to keep the complex in good condition. Escalators break down often and air conditioning is nearly non-existent.

Mr Daniel Koh, 64, who owns tailor shop Satana Fashion, said the poorly maintained complex has driven people away. Yet, some remain reluctant to leave the centre.

Resident Agnes Low, 49, said she would miss living in a convenient location where "everybody knows everybody".

Ms Indranee Rajah, the MP for the area, said she would be meeting affected tenants this Saturday to understand their concerns.

Still, at least one tenant regards the acquisition as a form of closure. Mr Tony Chan, 65, opened his menswear tailor shop in 2002 and finds running it "quite a good way to pass time".

Having been in the business for 40 years, he plans to retire. He said: "It's a good thing, because the Government has given me a definite end date."

roysim@sph.com.sg

waltsim@sph.com.sg