Carparks play host to more than just vehicles these days.
Despite common worries about noise, lighting and ventilation, some businesses are happy to set up shop in parking lots as they offer lower rentals and convenient locations.
Figures from HDB show that 116 of the more than 780 HDB multi-storey carparks now house facilities such as restaurants, supermarkets, childcare centres and even a gym.
Industry players cannot confirm which was the first operator to open in a carpark here, but the trend is believed to have been in place since at least the 1980s.
Ms Edith Tay, director of real estate company PropertyBank, which specialises in commercial properties, says: "Commercial establishments in carparks help to provide landlords with an alternative income. Offering amenities in multi-storey carparks are also an added convenience for residents in housing estates."
Real estate experts say it is difficult to gauge the rentals for commercial spaces in carparks as they can vary greatly, depending on factors such as the visibility of the space and existing amenities in the area.
Mr Nicholas Mak, head of consultancy and research at SLP International, say they can range from about $4 per sq ft in an HDB multi-storey carpark to close to $20 per sq ft in the carpark of a downtown shopping mall.
Home-grown fitness chain Gymm Boxx opened its first gym in 2010 on the top floor of a three-storey HDB carpark in Bedok Reservoir Road. It is said to be the only gym to be found in a carpark here.
Mr Ikram Kalil, 29, Gymm Boxx's marketing manager, says: "In order to keep our price points low in the heartland, we needed to keep overheads low. Rental was one of the main factors why we opened here."
He declines to reveal rental figures but says the rental is "similar" to that of two other Gymm Boxx gyms here in Punggol and Kampong Ubi community clubs.
The 2,000 sq ft space is air-conditioned and equipped with toilets and shower facilities. Rates start at $135 for a three-month membership for adults.
One of the challenges of its unusual location is low foot traffic, says Mr Ikram. During its first year of business, Gymm Boxx spent between $5,000 and $10,000 on banners, flyers and posters. Now, this branch is the top-performing outlet in terms of revenue.
Childcare centres are also injecting some life into drab carpark spaces.
When childcare centre Carpe Diem Springs opened in an HDB multi-storey carpark in Spottiswoode Park Road in 2011, the management painted bright floor-to-ceiling murals of animals and flowers on the walls outside the centre.
The main entrance to the centre is just a few steps away from parking bays. Hence, Ms Vernice Goh, 37, an administrator, was initially worried about enrolling her six-year-old son in the centre.
The mother of two, whose home is a 15-minute walk from the childcare centre, has since changed her mind. "I visited the place and it turned out to be quite safe. The teachers are very attentive," she says.
"They have brightened up the place and changed its appearance. It is also convenient when I take a taxi because I can just alight inside the carpark and will not get drenched when it rains."
Ms Jervis Quek, 35, centre manager of Carpe Diem Springs in Spottiswoode Park, says air-conditioning, air humidifiers and fans provide ample ventilation in the 4,200 sq ft centre, which has windows only in the kitchen.
The main gate to the centre can be opened only by a button that is beyond the reach of children. Noise from traffic is minimal during the daytime, she adds. For outdoor activities, the childcare centre uses the playground and outdoor pavilion located less than 100m away from the building.
However, one drawback to the location is the dim lighting. This is something Ms Quek hopes can be improved.
Since 2005, NTUC's childcare arm, NTUC First Campus, has opened three My First Skool childcare centres on the ground floor next to multi-storey carparks.
It is not just amenities in the heartlands that are tucked away in carparks. Some upscale establishments are accessible only via parking lots too.
One of two entrances to Ocean Restaurant By Cat Cora in the S.E.A Aquarium in Resorts World Sentosa is found in the integrated resort's west carpark. The other entrance is within the aquarium but customers can enter the restaurant only via the carpark after 7pm when the aquarium closes.
The 63-seat seafood restaurant, opened by Mississippi-born celebrity chef Cat Cora in February, offers a view of the aquarium's open ocean gallery. It has a smart-casual dress code and main courses start from $52.
Mr Ravi Muthiah, the food and beverage director of Resorts World Sentosa, says: "Having to enter via the carpark does not deter guests. At the end of the day, the ambience and food play a bigger role. An entrance at the carpark actually allows easy access for guests who drive."
Meanwhile, the carpark in Ion Orchard has been home to the Balaclava Live bar since 2010, when it moved from Suntec City. The semi-circular live music joint with more than 90 seats, which takes up 3,000 sq ft, is on the fifth floor of the mall's carpark. Large glass panels - part of the mall's facade - line one side of the bar, offering patrons a view of the shopping belt.
Mr Sam Yeo, 50, owner of nightspot operator Imaginings which runs the bar, says: "We were offered other spaces inside the mall but decided to take this one. Rental is one of the main factors, but I really took a liking to this space because the glass windows let in a lot of light and people can drive up and walk straight in instead of going through the crowded mall."
People usually find out about Balaclava Live through word of mouth. Mr Yeo is also working with Ion Orchard's management to help direct more traffic to his bar, such as through referrals from its concierge.
One establishment that has survived in a carpark for more than a decade is the Cantonese eatery Roland Restaurant, which is found in an HDB multi-storey carpark in Marine Parade Central.
The 1,100-seat eatery, which used to be in Upper East Coast Road, opened there in 1998. It hosts more than 100 events every year, including weddings and corporate functions.
Mr Justin Lim, 25, who runs the family business, says: "Our rental is three to four times cheaper than in a shopping mall. We have never considered moving."
As long as the quality and service are up to scratch, most Singaporeans are not bothered by the location. Take fire safety manager Henney Yeo, 65, for example. He frequents Roland Restaurant so regularly that two of his four chlidren have held their wedding banquets there.
He says: "Being Singaporean, the most important thing is the food. The staff are friendly and once you step inside, it is a whole different place from a carpark."
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