SINGAPORE - Jalan Besar estate, sandwiched between Little India and Lavender, was, for years, largely a mess of industrial properties, shophouses, hotels and a handful of condominiums.
For that reason, the area has probably been off the radar of many property investors.
But property experts note that it is slowly being gentrified as coffee joints, small boutique shops and offices join the mix of engineering and carpentry workshops.
"This is quite rare given that there are competing interests for land use by different groups, and it is interesting that such a central area still preserves its flavour," said Mr Ong Kah Seng, director of consultancy R'ST Research.
In fact, Jalan Besar has been likened to edgy Tiong Bahru, which has become popular among the hipster crowd in recent times.
Some older but popular malls such as City Square Mall and Mustafa Centre serve the area, but are farther away.
However, those living or working in the area will not have to look too far for new retail or dining options soon, as developer Tong Eng Group embarks on a revamp of Eminent Plaza and neighbouring Lavender Food Square.
Both developments have been landmarks along Jalan Besar, and were acquired by the firm for about $11 million more than 30 years ago. They will soon be torn down and redeveloped into a freehold 16-storey commercial tower, called Arc 380, with 144 office units and 23 retail shops.
Tong Eng said that 92 office units will be kept by the firm for renting out, while the remaining 52 units for sale have been snapped up at an average of $2,480 per sq ft (psf).
Four of the 23 retail units will be rented out by the firm. Already, nine of the remaining 19 units put up for sale have been moved at $5,800 psf on average.
Eight retail units are designated for shops, while 15 are meant for restaurants, said Tong Eng. Under a restrictive covenant on titles of retail units, a range of uses will not be allowed, such as the operation of nightclubs, pubs, cybercafes or funeral parlours.
"We want to change the image of the older building, which had many karaoke bars and nightclubs," said a Tong Eng spokesman.
Commercial rents at Jalan Besar range from $3.40 to $5.40 psf, according to data from the Singapore Real Estate Exchange.
Ms Christine Li, research head of property firm OrangeTee, said one benefit of buying a unit in the area, whether residential or commercial, is its proximity to the city.
She said the Bendemeer MRT station opening in 2017 should improve accessibility, and those working in the Central Business District could be interested in living in a "hip" neighbourhood.
Mr Ong noted that small freehold residential projects have sprung up in the area, such as the 25-unit Le Somme on Somme Road, where units were sold for $1,245 psf on average.
On Cavan Road, the 36-unit project Cavan Suites was sold for an average of $1,580 psf.
"Some buyers who like quaint locations choose properties there because it offers interesting niche amenities," he said. "Even if the neighbourhood is old, residents will still feel that the central locality supersedes any imperfections."
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