Opera Gallery at Ngee Ann City fights eviction order

A rental dispute turned ugly at Ngee Ann City on Sunday morning. Security was called in to the Opera Gallery – one of the tenants there – to seal off the premises which houses over S$20 million worth of art.

The Opera Gallery had brought in dramatic street art during the F1 race last September. And now it is caught in some drama itself.

Its landlords at Ngee Ann City ordered security to seal off the gallery’s premises after 12 years of operation there.

Explaining the move, Aw Eng Hai, partner at accounting firm Grant Thornton – which is acting for landlord Toshin Development – said: “The tenant had a lease which expired on 31 January 2009. And so upon the expiry of the tenancy, the tenant did not hand over vacant possession back to the landlord. So the landlord had to effect re-entry.”

When Channel NewsAsia asked if the issue arose because the tenant did not pay their rent, Mr Aw said: “No, it is not that they are not paying their rent. The landlord has found a new tenant.”

Toshin Development is the master lessee for about 226,000 square feet of retail space in Ngee Ann City. It is wholly-owned by departmental store operator Takashimaya.

Last March, the gallery was informed that its tenancy agreement will not be renewed.

But seven months earlier – in August 2007 – the landlord allowed the gallery to undergo a S$300,000 renovation.

Lawyers have yet to resolve the dispute.

Stephane Le Pelletier, director, Opera Gallery said: “Just after midnight, the alarm went off because these people decided to break into my premises. I straight away saw that there was some boarding in front of the gallery, and when I stepped into the gallery, I saw that some of our pieces, paintings were already packed.”

Mr Aw explained: “The landlord has already informed the tenant that if they do not remove their valuables from the premises, the landlord will not be liable for any damage.”

Mr Le Pelletier said: “If they have their right as landlord, I am really happy to cooperate. But they have to show me something, they cannot just break into my premises without any court order.”

The landlord said they want the premises back because a new tenant can offer a better retail mix for the mall. Opera Gallery said they have told the landlord that they are willing to raise the rental price.

In the meantime, both sides could not come to an agreement and Opera Gallery’s staff were stuck in the premises since midnight with no electricity and were unable to use the toilets.

After a 12-hour stand-off, the gallery’s staff were exhausted and left the premises.

Lawyers from both sides are still in talks.

Opera Gallery said it has yet to find a new space to move to. It has 10 outlets in the world – including New York, Hong Kong, Monte Carlo and Dubai.

The Singapore outlet was the second to open after Paris.

Source : Channel NewsAsia – 2 Feb 2009

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