Rail Mall owners seeking buyers

Rail Mall, a stretch of shopping and dining outlets in a rustic part of Upper Bukit Timah Road, has been put on the market. ST PHOTO: MOHD KHALID BABA

SINGAPORE (THE BUSINESS TIMES) - Rail Mall, a stretch of shopping and dining outlets in a rustic part of Upper Bukit Timah Road, has been put on the market.

Besides 43 road-fronting units, the 105,561 sq ft site also comes with 95 carpark lots.

Ku Swee Yong, chief executive of International Property Advisor, said the development could be worth S$30 million, or about S$300 psf of land area.

According to newspaper advertisements put up last week, it has a lettable floor area of 49,766 sq ft and comes with 28 years left on its lease. The property is held by Pulau Properties, which is in turn owned by the Lee Foundation and members of the Lee family.

CBRE and Savills, the marketing agents listed in the ads, both declined comment. One of the agents listed in the ad said the owners did not want publicity and declined comment.

Experts said it is unlikely to be redeveloped even if a new owner steps in. Nicholas Mak, executive director of ZACD Group, said: "This property may attract property funds interested in... rental income."

Because its 99-year lease will expire in 2046, Mr Mak said it would not make sense for a new owner to redevelop it.

Mr Ku said another barrier to redevelopment is the fact that the land is zoned for residential use, adding that there are similar cases where old shophouses are used in a different way from the land use stipulated in the master plan.

In such cases, Mr Ku said, the authorities would allow the owners and tenants to continue with the same use even if zoning changed during recent revisions to the master plan.

He added that even if the authorities were to allow a lease top-up, it would be costly.

Given the short lease left, a new owner would want a high enough cashflow to break even.

"If you were to tear down and redevelop for residential use, you would get lower value use, lower rental returns," Mr Ku said.

Mr Mak said that while a main road frontage can be a plus for shops and restaurants, the development potential of the land is limited due to the narrow shape

The Rail Mall is believed to have gotten its name from its proximity to the Rail Corridor. Nearby is an iconic 1932 steel bridge constructed as part of the re-aligned former Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) railway line.

In 1994, Lee Rubber subsidiary Singapore Engineers gave the 43 one-storey units a S$5 million facelift to turn it into Rail Mall, a neighbourhood centre targeting residential estates in the area. The mall went through another revamp in 2008 as its management tried to position it as a food and lifestyle hub for the west.

Its current tenants include Cold Storage, F&B outlets such as Toast Box and a few tuition agencies.

Expression of interest for the property is up till March 8.

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