Where are the crowds?

Where are the crowds?

Tenants at Parkland Green in East Coast Park, which opened to fanfare two years ago, are struggling despite several events held there in a bid to drum up excitement for the lifestyle spot.

Six of the 11 businesses in the area next to Carpark C1 - restaurants, cafes and shops - have seen earnings drop by up to 30 per cent since January last year, the peak of business. The rest say trade has been lukewarm since they moved in when the place opened, with a handful of customers on weekdays and more on weekends.

They think this is due to several reasons: The imposition of carpark charges there about a year ago and competition from the reopened Marine Cove - a popular area with the iconic McDonald's outlet a four-minute drive away - in June this year.

In the months after Parkland Green opened in September 2014, parking was free and eateries there were packed on weekends and even on weekday evenings.

Tenants say the situation started going downhill around the end of last year and the start of this year.

To turn things around, the businesses have approached the National Parks Board (NParks) - which manages Parkland Green - several times to ask that activities be organised at the area's 1ha open lawn.

Apart from events such as a movie screening, free weekly workout classes have also been held on weekends for adults and children since August this year.

The latest initiative was held yesterday. Called A Splash Of Colour - a free event with activities such as bubble soccer (a game in which players kick around a soccer ball with their upper bodies cocooned within giant plastic bubbles), skating and roller-blading lessons, in-store promotions and performances by buskers - it was timed to coincide with the school holidays.

Some of the events are a success, say tenants, but others do poorly.

Tenants say they were told to expect at least 1,000 visitors to a movie screening event held in August, but only 100 people showed up.

At Atmosphere Bistro & Bar, business has fallen by 30 per cent since January. Its managing director Chiam Wee Leong, 32, says he expected the dip following the reopening of Marine Cove, but added that there were bigger factors at play, such as the dismal retail climate.

"If I were a parent, I'd definitely take my kids to Marine Cove because it has a big playground. The economy is doing poorly, so people are spending less where they can. Malls and many other retailers have also been hit," he says.

He started pizza-making classes for children earlier this year, in a bid to keep families coming to his establishment. The response has been good, so he plans to roll out classes to teach participants to make pineapple tarts and muffins.

The other affected tenants did not want to be named, but Mr Desmond Jose, manager of the 148-seat Patro's Sports Bar & Restaurant, says Marine Cove has "definitely taken some of our weekday lunchtime clientele".

When contacted, NParks did not elaborate on plans it had for the area, but senior director Tan Lai Kheng says: "We hope park users will enjoy these educational and fun activities and events made possible through collaborations with our partners."

For yesterday's event, the government agency bore the costs of promotional materials and chalk for the mass chalk-art activities.

The owner of skating and beach equipment retail store Hvper Sport, Mr Eddie Chua, 50, who organised the free bubble soccer, skating and roller-blading lessons for A Splash Of Colour, says he is happy NParks initiated this one-day event.

"Instead of waiting for the economy to turn, I think it will benefit all of us here if we try to band together and do something sustainable regularly," he adds.

"We have beautiful stretches of grass here. It's up to us tenants to think of how to co-host activities and use the space."

Meanwhile, taxi driver Lim Kee Long, 56, says he heads to Parkland Green every weekend with his wife and two children.

"I don't go there for the events or activities. I just go there to exercise, eat and relax with my family. It's a nice spot and I like that it's less crowded than some of the other parts of the park," he says.

Business as usual at East Coast Seafood Centre

Despite waves of change and intense competition with other areas of East Coast Park, tenants at another stretch of the park are holding their own.

A sign that reads "Business As Usual" calls out to motorists driving past the carpark entrance of the East Coast Seafood Centre and the five tenants there say things have stabilised. One of them, Enak Enak Hong Kong Tea House, has managed to improve business by about 35 per cent since June.

The centre has made the news several times since it opened in 1985. It had eight tenants then and boasted big-name restaurants such as Long Beach, Jumbo and Red House. Up till the 1990s, it was typical for diners to queue for about an hour to get a seat at the seafood restaurants there.

In 2005, it underwent a $2-million revamp by the National Parks Board (NParks). It reopened six months later with a new coat of paint, wider pavements and better drainage.

Last year, after 30 years at the centre, Red House Seafood closed to make way for a landscaped lawn. Restaurants No Signboard Seafood and Fisherman's Village also exited last year after their leases expired.

A spokesman for Red House said last year that the centre was probably on its last legs as crowds had "thinned drastically since 2004" and people could easily get seafood elsewhere, including at neighbourhood eateries.

The situation, however, seems to have improved since then.

Mr Jamal Abu Bakar, manager of Enak Enak Hong Kong Tea House, a halal seafood restaurant that opened there last April, says business was poor for the first six months. "It was very rough," the 50-yearold says, adding that business was a far cry from its other outlet at Simpang Bedok, which is usually packed.

The management decided to advertise in the media this year and started renting out its second-floor space to community centres, schools and corporate groups. Since June this year, things have improved and Mr Jamal says it is now usually fully booked on weekends.

Other restaurants on the stretch are long-time tenants Jumbo Seafood Restaurant and Long Beach Seafood Restaurant, and newer players Rong Heng Seafood and Ubin First Stop Restaurant.

A Jumbo Seafood spokesman says the outlet at the centre has seen "relatively stable business" over the past few years. "The arrival of new tenants has not had a significant impact," he says.

To stay competitive, the restaurant regularly engages with its 54,000 loyalty members and has promotional tie-ups with credit cards and other payment gateways.

Ubin First Stop Restaurant is the newest kid on the block - it moved there in July this year.

Its business development manager, Mr Joshua Sim, 30, says business has been "okay" on weekdays and gets "better" on weekends. "We are against big brands, so competition is stiff. But we have loyal customers," he says.

The restaurant moved to East Coast when its lease at Changi Village expired. "The crowd there was much better than at the Seafood Centre," adds Mr Sim.

He intends to stick it out at the Seafood Centre. The restaurant has been trying to woo customers with its signature dishes, such as sambal chilli crab, "leather jacket" fish and "manis chye", a type of kampung vegetable that the restaurant imports from Malaysia.

"We just moved here, so I expect that the first few years will be tough," he says.

This article was first published on Dec 11, 2016.
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