Operator of troubled Jurong West Hawker Centre to call it quits, complex to close for at least 10 months from August

The centre is operated under the socially-conscious enterprise hawker centre model.
The centre is operated under the socially-conscious enterprise hawker centre model.ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE - The operator of the beleaguered Jurong West Hawker Centre, which was previously reported to have just half its stalls open for business, is not renewing its contract expiring in August, citing lacklustre results.

Hawker Management, a subsidiary of Koufu Group, said in a statement on Tuesday (May 5) that the hawker centre's results have not met its "ideal performance standards", and that it will not stay on after its three-year contract expires on Aug 6.

"Koufu, as a public listed company, has an obligation to safeguard our shareholders' interests, therefore we have made the difficult decision to exit upon expiry of the contract in August 2020 to focus efforts on other aspects of our business," said the operator.

Hawker Management added that it had been set up to manage Jurong West Hawker Centre as part of Koufu's corporate social responsibility efforts. With the contract's end, Koufu will look to carry out such efforts in other ways, it said.

Interested stallholders at the centre will get help to relocate to available stalls at existing hawker centres and markets managed by the National Environment Agency (NEA). They can also move to coffee shops or foodcourts operated by Koufu.

Those who want to switch jobs or seek financial assistance can ask NEA for help.

In the meantime, Hawker Management will waive stall rentals from June till Aug 6, which combined with the Government’s help, mean a full waiver from April to Aug 6, and a 50 per cent discount in March. 

It will also offer a $1,000 relocation fee to eligible stallholders.

The Straits Times had reported last May that just half of the 48 wet market and hawker stalls at the two-storey complex were occupied. The complex opened in 2017.

The centre is operated under the socially-conscious enterprise hawker centre model, in which operators must have "a social mission".

Tenants had said that the empty stalls mean a lack of variety in both the hawker centre and market's offerings, which makes it tough to draw residents who have other nearby options.

NEA said in a statement on Tuesday that it will conduct a request for proposal to seek new ideas from operators to improve the centre’s operations and offerings. 

It said: “With the low footfall and occupancy rates at Jurong West Hawker Centre even before the Covid-19 situation, it will be in everyone’s interest to seek out new ideas and proposals to rejuvenate the operations and offerings of (the centre), to safeguard both patrons’ and stallholders’ interest.”

It said it would seek proposals from socially-conscious hawker centre operators to improve the centre through options such as a potential redesign or renovation.

It will also consult with the community and stakeholders.

"It is thus estimated that Jurong West Hawker Centre will be closed temporarily after the exit of Hawker Management until it reopens some time in the second half of 2021."

 
 
 

It added that it will offer existing stallholders a return to the centre when it is ready, and more details will be announced when available.

Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor said the move to seek ideas for revamping the hawker centre comes amid a poor business environment. This is due to the Covid-19 situation - which has led to measures such as a ban on dining in - hitting food and beverage business operators hard.

She added: "NEA's immediate priority is to work with Hawker Management to ensure that the incumbent stallholders will be well taken care of during this period of transition and to assist all to find a stall to continue their hawker trade if they wish to."

Dr Khor had separately said in Parliament that since the start of the circuit breaker period on April 7, about 20 per cent to 30 per cent of cooked food stallholders island-wide have chosen not to operate their stalls.

Pre-school teacher Janet Ng, 55, who lives across the road from the hawker centre, said she seldom visits the hawker centre and prefers the adjacent Pioneer Mall.

A Giant supermarket and a Koufu foodcourt at the mall already adequately serve the grocery and dining needs of residents, she said.

"The hawker centre is always very quiet and most stalls are always closed... there are not many choices there," she added.

"The ventilation is actually very good there. It would be good if it could be converted to be used for something else, such as a community club."