Curtain to rise on Capitol, after all

FOR the past 10 years, this once-lovely icon has languished in disuse.

Seven years and $1.51 million spent on feasibility studies, maintenance and reinstatement works led only to the eventual conclusion that the historic Capitol Theatre was “not viable” as a performing arts centre.

So, it comes as some surprise that – in releasing a 1.46-hectare land parcel at the junction of Stamford Road and North Bridge Road for sale on the reserve list of the Government’s Land Sale Programme yesterday – the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) announced that the neo-classical style former cinema was “required to be restored into an arts or entertainment-related performance venue”.

In response to Today’s queries, a URA spokesperson said: “The previous feasibility study by the Singapore Tourism Board was based on Capitol Theatre being refurbished and operated as a standalone arts performance venue with no firm plans to redevelop the rest of the site. Whilst the proposal was implementable from a functional and operational point of view, it was found to be economically not feasible.”

It added: “The integration of a performance venue within the development will enhance the vibrancy and attractiveness of the project and strengthen the arts and cultural positioning for the Civic District and the nearby Bras Basah / Bugis area.”

As part of the conditions for the integrated development of the plot, developers have to commit at least 40 per cent of the 51,359-sq m total gross floor area to include a hotel.

The three historic buildings on the site – Capitol Building and Stamford House being the other two that were gazetted for conservation last July – have to be “retained and restored for adaptive reuse”.

The remaining space in the bustling City Hall area can be used for other commercial purposes such as retail, food & beverage and entertainment.

It is envisaged that the new building that will replace Capitol Centre will have a “modern or contemporary” design, and the site will feature lots of attractive public open spaces, plazas, courtyards and landscaped terraces and roof gardens.

The land parcel will be sold through a Concept and Price revenue tender system. This means the Government will only consider the bids of those developers whose proposed designs are deemed good enough.

While the plum site holds many promising possibilities, property experts feel that it is “very unlikely” there will be bidders in the coming months.

Knight Frank’s director of consultancy and research Nicholas Mak said: “The softening property market may deter developers from making any moves. It is also a very complicated development that requires a very creative concept, because developers have to get around how to maximise use of space while conserving the historic buildings.”

He added that the requirement to run a hotel in an area with several other large hotels such as Swissotel The Stamford and The Fairmont nearby may also put developers off.

“The developer may need to operate a niche hotel, which may not be as competitive economically,” he added.

Nonetheless, news that the Capitol Theatre may be restored to its past glory was met with cheers from those in the arts community. The Necessary Stage’s founder and artistic director Alvin Tan said he was “very excited” about the prospect of watching performances in the cavernous theatre again.

“Hopefully the developers will build it into a venue that is shared by many arts groups because there is a lack of mid-sized theatres here,” he said.

Source : Today – 19 Dec 2008

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