Farewell Golden Mile Complex? Residents open up about their love-hate relationship with the landmark

Mr Ponno Kalastree, 71, lives on the 12th floor at Golden Mile Complex, which is being sold en bloc.
Mr Ponno Kalastree lives on the 12th floor of the Golden Mile Complex.
Mr Ponno Kalastree lives on the 12th floor of the Golden Mile Complex.ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

SINGAPORE - Like a monolithic cruise ship permanently "docked" by the Kallang Basin, Golden Mile Complex has a special place in the hearts of some of its long-time residents.

Mr Ponno Kalastree, 71, said he feels like a small boy navigating his way across an ocean liner whenever he walks along the lengthy corridors of the complex.

"Some units, like mine, have balconies overlooking the water. We also have special access stairways that give us that sense of exclusivity, like you're entering a special cabin," he said.

But his journey on board might soon come to an end as the building has secured more than 80 per cent of votes from owners to launch a collective sale, according to a notice dated Aug 3.

Residents like Mr Ponno voted for the sale, despite their attachment to the building. Mr Ponno said his frustration with the aged strata title property pushed him to the collective sale camp.

Strata title structures typically have hundreds of individual owners. They contribute to a small sinking fund for maintenance works. With limited avenues to generate income for the fund, maintenance works are often done sparingly and have to be budgeted for carefully.

The complex was originally meant to herald a new era for the Beach Road area, with the authorities intending to have a "golden mile" of skyscrapers with hotels, shops and luxury apartments.

Instead, residents watched as redevelopment efforts took place more aggressively elsewhere, with the rise of icons like Gardens by the Bay and Marina Bay Sands.

Frustrated with rusty pipes and water damage, Mr Ponno wants to downgrade and buy a five-room Housing Board flat with the payout.

He was told his 2,200 sq ft apartment should fetch around $2.5 million if the sale is successful.

His wife Dora Woo, 67, who runs a security and investigation firm from two rented office units on the complex's eighth storey with him, added: "When it rains, our office furniture gets wet."

They have two daughters who live overseas, and the couple live here with a domestic helper.

Mr Ponno bought his apartment in 1989 for about $400,000. It has three bedrooms and a spacious living room.

His favourite spot is the long balcony which offers a panoramic view of Kallang Basin and beyond, framed by the branches of his neighbour's bougainvillea plants which bounce cheerfully in the breeze.

Mr Ponno said his home has not only been the perfect party venue for families, friends and business associates, but has also given him a front seat to Singapore's development.

He said: "The view wasn't so attractive when we first moved in. The Kallang River wasn't as clean and the Tanjong Rhu shipyard which did shipbuilding and repairs was quite a messy sight."

After the shipyard was relocated, the area underwent major redevelopment. Mr Ponno watched as cranes swooped in and workers constructed new waterfront condominiums and other attractions.

From his vantage point on the 12th storey, Mr Ponno enjoys fireworks and the light shows of the Supertrees at Gardens by the Bay.

"Here, you feel connected with the city. You're not isolated. You are part of the city. The city is alive," he said, adding he will miss the place.

Golden Mile Complex was part of the Government's first land sales programme beginning in 1967 which offered land parcels for sale with a 99-year lease period.

The stepped terrace structure was completed in 1973 at a cost of $18 million.

Residents and business owners told The Sunday Times that they are hoping the property will sell for $900 million.

For Mr Ande Lai, 70, a member of the collective sale committee who enjoys living and working at the complex, it is about helping to see the sale through successfully.

He said there had been other attempts to go en bloc, but it is the first time the required approval of 80 per cent has been gathered.

Some 724 owners of 550 units signed the agreement.

 
 
 
 

This makes up 80.83 per cent of the total share value and around 85 per cent of the total area of lots there, according to the Aug 3 proposed en bloc sale notice.

Previous media reports state that Golden Mile Complex is home to about 400 shops, 220 offices and almost 70 residential units.

Mr Lai has owned a photo studio there since the early 70s.

He said transport infrastructure was poor then, so few would venture to the city fringe to shop.

Golden Mile Complex eventually blossomed in the 1980s and became known as "Little Thailand" because of the large crowds of Thai nationals working here in construction who gathered there.

Both Mr Lai and his wife even picked up Thai to communicate with their customers. In 1986, the couple bought an apartment there.

Mr Lai, who joined the building's management committee shortly after opening his studio there, said maintaining the building is a costly affair.

He said: "Progressively, we have upgraded the toilets, escalators, lifts and air-conditioning system. Of course it is a little bit dirty here and there, and we have not done much to maintain the facade, apart from repainting it every five years."

On the collective sale attempt, he said he believes the straightforward option for any developer would be to tear down the complex and start afresh.

On the possibility of conservation, he hopes the authorities will offer some perks to the developer.

Mr Lai said: "I believe if there were to be a conservation gazette, the developer needs to be incentivised with something like a lease top-up to make the project worth its while.

"The owners here should not lose out financially either."