Govt to co-fund projects to spruce up precincts, pilot model launched to better manage such districts

Ms Caroline Cornelius-Jones, also known as CJ the Bubble Girl, was in Singapore to perform as part of the Singapore River Festival 2016.
Ms Caroline Cornelius-Jones, also known as CJ the Bubble Girl, was in Singapore to perform as part of the Singapore River Festival 2016. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The Government will be co-funding private sector projects to spruce up precincts to liven them up and improve their attractiveness.

It will put in up to $500,000 per year for a four-year business plan to rejuvenate a precinct, which can include  business, commercial, residential, industrial and agricultural districts.

Existing precincts include Orchard Road and the  Singapore River.

This was announced by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) on Tuesday (Sept 5), on the back of a new model to better manage such precincts and Singapore’s first pilot Business Improvement District that has been set up.

The pilot BID to rejuvenate the Singapore River was officially formed in April by Singapore River One, which kickstarts a four-year business plan involving a slew of initiatives such as the Singapore River Festival, a permanent car-free zone in Circular Road, and environment works.

Boat Quay, Clarke Quay and Robertson Quay are managed by Singapore River One, a not-for-profit private company formed in 2012.

Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong on Tuesday also announced a pilot place management model for BIDs, which aims to garner interest and support from the private sector. The Government will then partner the private sector to improve the precinct.

There is no limit on the number of BIDs which can be formed, and they can vary in type, including industrial and agricultural districts, too.

Mr Wong noted that consumer expectations and demands are changing rapidly and millennials are spending more on experiences, instead of material possessions, that can be shared with family and friends.

"We are living in the age of the experience economy. Businesses must adapt to this new reality," said Mr Wong. "This is why place management is more important than before."

He said businesses need to come up with activities and programmes that are appealing and entertaining, as well as attract people with positive experiences. And this is where BIDs, with private sector involvement, could come in.

He was speaking at the launch of Making Places Great, a seminar and exhibition by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) in The URA Centre in Maxwell Road showcasing local and overseas ground-up place management efforts.

Under the BID programme, local stakeholders, such as businesses and private property owners, pay a "membership fee" to fund projects within the precinct.

The Government will provide a dollar-for-dollar match in funding of total membership fees raised by each precinct, capped at $500,000 per year for a four-year business plan.

Stakeholders interested in joining the pilot BID programme must first meet two thresholds. They must canvass for support from 51 per cent of property owners in the precinct. The property owners must then in turn raise 51 per cent of their total potential contribution amount.

In their expression of interest proposal to the URA, which needs to be submitted by March 31, 2018, precinct stakeholders need to propose how they plan to enhance their precinct through various initiatives. Once the proposal is accepted, they need to develop a business plan.

If there is a positive response, the BID model may become legislated here - in which case all stakeholders in the participating precincts could have to contribute membership fees.

The experience from the pilot BID is expected to help with crafting legislation. Mr Wong said this could help determine the minimum level of support and funding needed from stakeholders in a precinct before a BID can be formed.

The BID framework, first established in Canada and the United States in the 1960s, has also been adopted in Australia, New Zealand and Britain.

URA said that at the moment, most place management initiatives in Singapore are limited by the voluntary nature of participation from stakeholders. This means funding is less certain, making it more difficult for some precincts to sustain long-term business plans.

Also, there has been a free-rider problem as some stakeholders choose not to contribute but still benefit from the contributions of others.

Explaining the BID model, Mr Wong said on Tuesday: "I don't think government-led programmes will be able to fully capture the unique characteristics and flavours of our diverse local areas.

"For place management to be effective, we really need ground-up ownership and participation, especially from local businesses and stakeholders who are more familiar w the local identity and needs of the precinct."

Said URA's group director for conservation and urban design Chou Mei: "It is when communities are in charge that we see the most positive outcomes - as they know what's best for their precincts.

"We hope to empower stakeholders to do more and take greater ownership over their precincts."

In February, the Committee on the Future Economy - tasked with charting the blueprint for Singapore's long-term growth - released recommendations including one for the government to study the legislation for a formal place management framework that would allow stakeholders to take more ownership over enlivening their precincts.

To assess ground support for such a framework, the URA is inviting precinct stakeholders to form pilot BIDs.

The CFE report came after the 30-member committee, co-chaired by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat and Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S. Iswaran consulted over 9,000 workers, unions, companies, trade bodies and other stakeholders.