The revival of Orchard Road

SHOPPING malls in the Orchard Road area are working hard to keep the shopping belt ahead of the game.

The area may have appeared to be less of a draw just a few years ago, with mega-malls such as VivoCity and even suburban shopping centres taking centre stage.

But various revamps and new developments have seen it rising in popularity again.

Singapore Polytechnic Business School senior lecturer Sarah Lim said: "Orchard Road's position as a shopping belt has always been very strong and, of late, things have been extremely 'happening', with many new malls opening.

"The revamps definitely add to the vibrancy and sense of continuity in the area." Ms Lim, who specialises in retail management, added: "It has definitely become the place to shop again."

Among the latest changes shoppers can look forward to is the integration of two buildings: Plaza Singapura and The Atrium@Orchard beside it.

Work on the expanded mall, which will retain the name Plaza Singapura, is slated for completion in the fourth quarter of this year. The project is reportedly costing CapitaMall Trust, which owns both properties, $150 million.

The properties' general manager, Ms Pauline Yeh, told my paper that the integration would allow shoppers to "move seamlessly" between both buildings and Dhoby Ghaut MRT station.

As part of the renovation, the first three levels of The Atrium, which houses a mix of offices and shops, will be converted to retail space.

"When completed, the combined mall will offer a total lettable area of about 625,000 sq ft, almost similar to ION Orchard," Ms Yeh added.

ION Orchard has around 660,000 sq ft of retail space, while Plaza Singapura currently has 498,000 sq ft of such space.

While unable to reveal the exact tenant line-up, Ms Yeh said the new space will include fashion, beauty, lifestyle and food-and-beverage outlets, as well as a "themed foodcourt". The mall, which will comprise nine main levels and three mezzanines, will also boast a spacious outdoor plaza.

Also in the works in Orchard Road is an extensive $31 million redevelopment of Wisma Atria's facade - to be completed by the third quarter - and the intro- duction of several new tenants, said a spokesman for Starhill Global Real Estate Investment Trust, which owns the mall.

The new facade will feature steps spanning its entire 123m length, improving accessibility and providing a permanent flood-control measure.

The mall's facade will also showcase "double-storey flagship stores of international, new-to-market brands in the mid- to high-end segments", the spokesman added.

For example, American fashion brand Tory Burch will make its Singapore debut at the mall, while Swiss watchmaker Swatch is set to establish its first Swatch concept store in South-east Asia there as well.

Come 2013, navigating through buildings in the Somerset area will get easier with the completion of a pedestrian bridge.

The glass bridge will link two upcoming buildings, one of which is being built on the site of the former Specialists' Centre-Phoenix Hotel, between Orchard Central and 313@Somerset. The building will also be linked to Somerset MRT station via a basement.

Mr Steven Goh, the executive director of the Orchard Road Business Association, said that these moves will help cement the fact that the shopping belt has gone beyond just being "an epicentre for global brands".

"It is also a lifestyle street where international events are held, and where locals and visitors dine, stay and play," he said.

Just last week, Orchard Road was named the No. 1 shopping belt in the world, in a survey conducted by French marketing consultancy Presence Mystery Shopping. It pipped world-famous venues, including Paris' Champs-Elysees, to the top spot.

Done by 90 "mystery shoppers", the survey said Orchard stood out for its "wide and clean pavements and diversity of shops", among other qualities.

Some shoppers that my paper spoke to - like freelance graphic artist Alexis Tan, 25 - feel that more can be done, as many of the same stores can be found along the shopping belt.

Still, shoppers are generally pleased with what Orchard Road has to offer.

Business-development executive Priscilla Tan, 29, said that Orchard Road offers a convenient one-size- fits-all experience, with a very different ambience compared to suburban malls.

"(Orchard Road) will always epitomise Singapore shopping for me," she said.

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