Circular Road makeover to gather pace soon

Six months have passed since news broke that Circular Road has been earmarked by its new master tenant for a major makeover.

But other than the introduction of weekend road closures and the relocation of ritzy bistro lounge The Vault late last year, efforts to revamp the area - located just behind Boat Quay - seem to have got off to a sluggish start.

Last October, lifestyle and hospitality group Limited Edition Concepts (LEC) signed an $8 million deal to take over the master lease of 28 shophouse units in the street from Octopus Holdings.

LEC, which owns The Vault and nightclub Club Kyo in Cecil Street, had said then that it would revitalise the area with fresh nightlife, as well as new food and beverage outlets, in a bid to offer revellers a more bohemian and sophisticated place to relax.

But the area, nestled in the heart of the financial district, still sports the girlie bars and karaoke pubs that lend the area its salacious image.

During a visit by The Straits Times last week, scantily clad women working at bars could still be seen calling out to potential male customers walking by.

It seems efforts by LEC to "clean up" Circular Road have not borne fruit just yet. That, said LEC director Godwin Pereira, "will take time".

"This street has a lot of character; it's like a peacock that needs time to shed its feathers," said the 39-year-old. "We took this on knowing it was not going to be an easy project. Progress for the first few months will be slow, but the acceleration will soon pick up."

Mr Pereira added that the street is only a month shy from a more palpable transformation.

For instance, at least two new concepts are set to open next month: creperie and wine bar Le Comptoir, and French-themed lounge Chateaux.

Both will operate from the four-storey building that once housed Archipelago Brewery - a popular watering hole for expatriates and locals alike who work in the Central Business District.

Also on the horizon is live music and sports bar Hero's, which will take over the three units currently occupied by Indian nightspot World Music Club by July.

Tapping into the road's closure to traffic on Friday and Saturday nights, LEC plans to introduce more F&B outlets with street seating, and organise outdoor events such as fashion shows and car shows to add "flavour and edge".

Patrons like brand consultant Hoong Wei Ling are looking forward to the new offerings.

"There's a better buzz here in general," said Ms Hoong, 32, who works nearby in Carpenter Street.

"With places like The Vault, it feels less seedy, and I won't feel awkward coming here to chill after work," she said.

Some businesses in the area also welcome the revamp, but others like Mr Santosh Nayak worry they may have to make way for new tenants that better fit LEC's plans. "LEC told us to be prepared for the worst, so we are hunting for a new place," said the 50-year-old manager of Indian bar-club Khushboo.

Karaoke lounges like Para Para will also likely have to vacate.

The four-year-old joint's lease is ending in August, and owner Ivvan Lor, 32, is resigned to his fate.

"We'll be sad to go," he said. "But we can't do anything - the landlord has all the power."

Mr Pereira explained that the "cleanup" is necessary - while an eclectic mix is ideal, his group also wants the street to be a family- friendly one. "Possibly one or two KTV lounges might stay, but the more 'colourful' ones will eventually go," he said.

Mr Ty Tabing, executive director of Singapore River One, a non-profit body which represents riverfront businesses here, agrees.

"Currently, Circular Road still suffers from the negative association with the sleazy bars. With LEC's efforts in re-tenanting... we hope that in time, a better mix of tenants will come to the area to give it a much-needed lift."

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