Merlion demolition plan upsets some but experts say Sentosa overhaul vital

The Sentosa Merlion, the largest of the seven Merlion statues in Singapore, has towered over Sentosa for 24 years. Its last day of operation is Oct 20. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH
The Sentosa Merlion, the largest of the seven Merlion statues in Singapore, has towered over Sentosa for 24 years. Its last day of operation is Oct 20. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

Proposed masterplan will be the first major redevelopment of island since the 1970s

Plans to demolish the Merlion statue on Sentosa to make way for a new corridor linking the north and south of the island has upset some Singaporeans who hold nostalgic memories of the towering statue.

But experts say that a major revamp of the island is sorely needed and its redevelopment, along with that of adjacent Pulau Brani, could help boost Sentosa's appeal.

The Sentosa Merlion, the largest of the seven Merlion statues here, has towered over Sentosa for 24 years.

Visitors like Mr Colin Tan, 32, recall its nightly laser shows and the views from within the 37m-tall structure.

"I wish they could build around it or preserve it in some way," said Mr Tan, a consultant.

Student Joven Ang, 18, said: "The Merlion there represents Sentosa island, allowing Singaporeans to have a sense of belonging, and without it, it would kind of be meaningless, even if there are many attractions built."

While the statue may hold sentimental value to many, observers say Sentosa needs new attractions to keep the visitors coming.

"It's a pity that the Merlion couldn't fit into the plans; there is a sense of loss. But it is also a bit dated and rundown," said Dr Michael Chiam, senior tourism lecturer at Ngee Ann Polytechnic.

He pointed out that the masterplan, details of which were announced last Friday, marks out the first major overhaul of Sentosa since it was developed as a resort island in the 1970s.

 
 
 
 

"It needs something to get people excited because now, after going once or twice, they most probably won't want to go again," Dr Chiam added.

The development of Pulau Brani will likely increase visits to Sentosa and Resorts World Sentosa (RWS), he said, adding that the plans may give RWS an edge over its competitor, Marina Bay Sands (MBS), with business travellers.

"Most of the Mice (meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions) organisers look at the sight-seeing and recreational component as well.

"So if you combine all these enhancements on the two islands, it may have a bigger offering than MBS," he noted.

Associate Professor Sing Tien Foo, director of the National University of Singapore's Institute of Real Estate and Urban Studies, said developing the two islands holistically provides the opportunity for bigger projects.

The islands will be divided into five zones with different themes, which will minimise duplication across clusters and cater to different groups more easily, Prof Sing pointed out.

The Sensoryscape, a double-level walkway that will connect the mainland-facing RWS to beaches on the south of Sentosa, will serve as an important spine to link larger areas, he said.

The Sentosa Boardwalk, for example, connects RWS with VivoCity, and walking trails could also be built between the two islands and Mount Faber.

Prof Sing noted that because the Pulau Brani masterplan will be implemented over the next two to three decades, much is likely to change.

One consideration in the long term is rising sea levels.

"If it isn't planned properly, the beaches will all be under water. One option is to cordon off part of the seafront," he said.

The Singapore Tourism Board said last Friday that the redevelopment of the two islands forms an integral part of Singapore's efforts to rejuvenate its leisure offerings and maintain its appeal.

While the construction of the Sensoryscape entails the closure of the popular Merlion attraction, "we are confident that both locals and visitors will have more to look forward to on Sentosa in the coming years when the five distinct zones are completed", it said.

Visitors can continue to visit the other six Merlion statues - at Merlion Park, Mount Faber, Tourism Court and Ang Mo Kio, the STB added.

A special edition of the Merlion's light and sound show will run until its last day of operation on Oct 20.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 22, 2019, with the headline 'Merlion demolition plan upsets some but experts say Sentosa overhaul vital'. Print Edition | Subscribe