5 things about Singapore Flyer and new owner Straco

Wu Hsioh Kwang, chairman of Straco. -- PHOTO: BUSINESS TIMES FILE
Wu Hsioh Kwang, chairman of Straco. -- PHOTO: BUSINESS TIMES FILE
After a year in limbo, mainboard-listed tourism company Straco Corporation has agreed to buy the troubled Singapore Flyer for $140 million in the hopes of reviving it. Here are five things things to know about Straco Corp and the iconic attraction. -- PHOTO: ST FILE

More than a year after the iconic Singapore Flyer went into receivership, Singapore tourism company Straco Corporation has agreed to buy the attraction for $140 million in the hopes of reviving it.

Here are five things about mainboard-listed Straco Corp, and the troubled attraction:

1. Straco Corp is run by a prominent local businessman

Founder and executive chairman Wu Hsioh Kwang 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.

Mr Wu, who graduated from Nanyang University in 1974 with a Bachelor of Commerce degree, is also a philanthropist. In 2010, he gave $1 million to the University of California Berkeley's Haas School of Business, where he sits on the advisory board, to support the studies of two fellows a year from China.

Since it was listed on the Singapore Exchange mainboard in February 2004, Straco's revenue has quadrupled, from $18 million in 2004 to $72.8 million last year. Net profits have also surged from $0.6 million to $31.1 million in that time.

2. It operates one of Shanghai's top attractions

Straco's flagship project in China is the Shanghai Ocean Aquarium, one of the city's most popular attractions with more than a million visitors each year. Among the world's largest indoor, closed-system aquariums, the 20,000 sq ft development cost US$55 million (S$68.7 million) to build. It showcases over 10,000 fishes from more than 450 different species around the world.

The aquarium, which was opened in 2004 by former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, also features a separate exhibition zone displaying rare and endangered species from China's Yangtze River.

Other key attractions that Straco has developed include Underwater World Xiamen, which houses one of the world's largest sperm whale specimens, and Lintong Lixing Cable Car near Mount Lishan in Xi'an, which provides a view of the Hua Qing Palace.

The company also owns the development rights to Chao Yuan Ge, where the Lintong Lixing Cable Car alights, and has obtained exclusive permission to display relics unearthed from the Chao Yuan Ge site on Mount Lishan.

3. The company has links to Moulin Rouge

In 2006, Straco entered into a joint venture with Mr Carlo Clerico of the Clericos, the music-hall family that has managed the Lido and Moulin Rouge cabarets in Paris for more than 60 years. The joint venture company, Straco Creation Private Limited, produces and manages avant-garde entertainment shows for a global audience.

Its first production, Paris Plumes, brought to life the colourful history of the Parisian cabaret and was shown in major cities in China between December 2007 and January 2008.

4. About the Singapore Flyer

The Singapore Flyer, which cost $240 million to build and has 28 air-conditioned capsules each able to accommodate 28 passengers, was opened in March 2008. It was the world's tallest Ferris wheel at 165m until Las Vegas' High Roller (167.6m) opened in March this year.

Ticket prices range between $21 (children) and $33 (adults), and passengers can also opt for unique experiences like sky dining. The Flyer's three-storey terminal building houses retail shops, restaurants and a flight simulator.

The attraction, however, has suffered from poor visitor numbers. High ticket prices and competition from the nearby Marina Bay Sands were often cited, while tenants within its terminal complained of poor business.

Its six-year history has also been marred by breakdowns and stoppages, including an incident on Dec 23, 2008, when a fire broke out in the wheel control room. In that incident,173 passengers were trapped for about six hours.

A more recent mishap occurred in July 2010, after lightning struck one of its electrical cables that supplied power to the air-conditioning systems. The ride had to shut down and more than 200 passengers were evacuated.

5. The search for a buyer

Singapore Flyer Pte Ltd, the company behind it, went bankrupt and was placed under receivership in May last year after failing to meet financial obligations to its main lending bank.

The observation wheel stayed open for business, while accounting firm Ferrier Hodgson was appointed by creditors to run the company. The troubled attraction was subsequently put up for sale, with advertisements appearing in newspapers such as The Wall Street Journal.

There had been talk that Merlin Entertainments Group, the British firm behind the iconic London Eye, was considering buying it, with plans to expand into Asia and to set up a Madame Tussauds wax museum.

Other interested buyers, including the then-unnamed Straco Corp, were also linked over the past year.

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