Bank officer Janice Heng is thrilled with the new food options at White Sands shopping mall in Pasir Ris.
After an 18-month renovation, the shopping centre now houses eateries such as Sushi Express and Secret Recipe, as well as two of her favourite cafes: The Soup Spoon Union and Cedele.
This means she no longer has to make a detour to Tampines for dinner.
“I can head to White Sands from Pasir Ris MRT,” says the 59- year-old, who lives within walking distance of the mall.
With its $40-million makeover, the 18-year-old shopping centre now boasts a fresh facade, 57 new shops and more open spaces.
Although older neighbourhood malls are often seen as the dowdier cousins of those in the city, many of them are sprucing up their buildings or introducing new shopping, dining and leisure options to keep up with the competition.
In fact, no fewer than five suburban shopping centres have undergone major refurbishments in the lasttwo years or are undergoing renovations.
CapitaLand, the largest mall owner and manager in Singapore with 18 operational malls, is renovating three of its suburban properties – Tampines Mall, IMM and Bukit Panjang Plaza.
In March, the 23-year-old Northpoint Shopping Centre in Yishun will be jazzed up to become part of the integrated Northpoint City project by Frasers Centrepoint Limited.
When it opens in 2017, the development will comprise more than 500 retail and food and beverage outlets, the Yishun Integrated Transport Hub, Nee Soon Central Community Club, an expansive Town Plaza and a community garden.
Mall renovations are known in the industry as “asset enhancement initiatives” and are typically carried out in phases to avoid the complete closure of the shopping centre.
The refurbishments range from upgrading facilities such as escalators and restrooms to a complete overhaul of a mall’s facade, layout and amenities.
White Sands is the first in Asia- Malls Management’s portfolio of malls to undergo an extensive renovation, says its managing director, Mr Tan Kee Yong.
AsiaMalls runs six malls in Singapore, including Tampines 1, Liang Court and Tiong Bahru Plaza, which is undergoing a facelift that will be completed by the end of the year.
Industry experts say shopping centres need to be spruced up regularly to stay relevant to shoppers.
Ms Christine Li, research director at commercial real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield, says “demographic changes lead to changes in buying patterns” and malls have to evolve with those patterns.
She adds: “This is to ensure that they can continue to maintain or even increase footfall or occupancy, a key to tenant retention.”
The slew of new suburban malls popping up in the past few years spells fiercer competition too, says Associate Professor Yu Shi-Ming from the department of real estate at the National University of Singapore’s School of Design & Environment.
Take, for instance, HillV2 at Upper Bukit Timah, which has upmarket options such as Wine Connection Bistro and New York cafe-cum-grocery store Dean & Deluca.
Another example is Westgate in Jurong East, which has international brands such as Japanese lifestyle store Tokyu Hands and French boulangerie Paul.
Prof Yu says: “Every time there is a new mall, the older ones feel the need to keep up. They need to upgrade because, otherwise, they will fall behind.”
That is why one of Singapore’s oldest malls, the 31-year-old Parkway Parade in Marine Parade, has been carrying out upgrading works regularly since the early noughties.
There are ongoing works for a cineplexon level 7.
All this is good news for the consumer who wants to avoid shopping in crowded city areas, such as Orchard Road.
Science educator Er Ya Qin, 30, who works and lives in Jurong, is thankful that older malls in the area, such as IMM, have been upgraded.
“Now I have more options. If I want to window shop and hang out, I go to Jem or Westgate, but if I have specific items in mind, I will go to IMM,” she says.
She heads to the Nike, Timberland and Nine West outlet stores at IMM every few months to get her shoes and sportswear fix.
She adds: “I hardly go to town now as I can get everything in Jurong.”
Where: 2 Jurong East Street 21
When: 10 am to 10 pm daily
Repositioning itself as Singapore’s largest outlet mall, IMM has added 29newoutlet stores since the middle of 2014, taking the total to 85 shops offering discounts of upto80per cent all year round.
The mall’s common areas have also been renovated and a new link bridge called the J-Walk has been added. The bridge connects the mall to Jurong East MRT station and surrounding buildings such as Westgate mall,Ng Teng Fong General Hospital and Devan Nair Institute. Its renovations cost $21 million.
The mall has a wider range of premium and popular brands than before, such as designer multi-brand retailer Club 21’s outlet store called Outlet by Club 21 (02-01), Japanese streetwear label Onitsuka Tiger (02-47) and fashion brand Juicy Couture (02-08).
Where: 4 Tampines Central 5
When: 10 am to 10 pm daily
Tampines Mall completed the initial phase of its $65-million renovations in June, converting the open roof on the fifth floor to an education hub with seven learning centres.
The 16-year-old mall’s facade has fresh cladding and a new covered linkway to Tampines MRT station.
Work is ongoing to improve the main atrium and to upgrade the secondary entrance and garden plaza on level 4. This is expected to be completed next year.
Parentsno longer need to ferry their children out of Tampines for enrichment classes.
There are speech and drama specialists Julia Gabriel Centre (05-03),Yamaha Music School (05-04) and art education centre Artary (05-05) in Tampines Mall.
The shopping centre also houses the first H&M fashion outlet in the eastern part of Singapore.A two storey store opened in the building in October.
Bukit Panjang Plaza
Where: 1 Jelebu Road
When: 10am to 10pm daily
In late 2014, a two-storey food and beverage block was added to Bukit Panjang Plaza, introducing eight food choices including artisan yogurt and dessert bar Milk & Honey (02-08), Japanese buffet restaurant Suki-Ya (02-16) and Thai eatery Siam Kitchen (02-18).
Now in the second phase of its $32.7-million renovations, the 18-year-old mall will have its main entrance and level three upgraded while the roof garden is being relocated to level four to make way for a new childcare centre, E-Bridge Pre-School.
The Bukit Panjang Public Library in the mall will also be expanded.
The mall is home to a sizeable number of halal eateries, including Western restaurant Eighteen Chefs (02-19); casual Korean eatery NeNe Chicken (02-10), known for its crispy fried chicken; and diner Encik Tan (01-58/59), which serves local fare such as wonton mee and fishball noodles.
Tiong Bahru Plaza
Where: 302 Tiong Bahru Road
When: 10 am to 10 pm daily
Renovations are underway for the 21-year-old Tiong Bahru Plaza and will be completed at the end of the year . The floor area will grow from 190,000 sq ft to 215,000 sq ft and there will be new communal spaces, including an open terrace on the fourth level and a plaza that can be used for events such as flea markets and music performances.
A new two-storey link– which houses retail space– to Central Plaza, the mall’s office tower, is also being built.
Some of the existing tenants, such as Kopitiam and Golden Village cinema, will return with new looks. There will be five new shops, including Thai restaurant Bangkok Jam and popular Japanese eyewear brand Owndays.
Look out for anew800sqmbird-shaped playground on the third level, with a design inspired by the mosaic playgrounds in older HDB housing estates.
Where: 1 Pasir Ris Central Street 3
When: 10 am to 10 pm daily
Besides a fresh coat of paint and a cheery new wave exterior design, the 18-year-old White Sands mall now has 57newtenants, ranging from restaurants and bistros to accessories shops and learning centres.
These include eatery The Soup Spoon Union (02-33), Japanese eyewear brand Owndays (01-16) and Just Education learning centre (05-07C).
On the fourth floor, the Pasir Ris Public Library reopened in November with a new space devoted to young adults called the Teens’ Mezzanine.
Visitors can browse book promotional videos on a screen and interact with a digital doodle wall, where they can write messages ona virtual white board using their fingertips.
Gao Peng Cuisine (02-12) serves Chinese food with a touch of East-West fusion. For example, on the menu is crispy Maltesers with custard ($4.50).
The famous Abdhus Salam Rojak at the Ayer Rajah Food Centre has opened its first restaurant, Ministry Of Rojak (01-30).A new item on the menu is Rojak Fondue (from $15)– a platter of favourite Indian rojak items surrounding a piping hot bowl of the bright red dipping sauce.