Nightlife outlets at Orchard Towers struggle to find new homes ahead of impending ban

A nightlife operator said he has been scouting for alternative sites for his clubs since the announcement in 2022.

Samuel Devaraj

Samuel Devaraj

The Straits Times


Nightlife operators at Orchard Towers were given a two-month extension to facilitate their transition to alternative arrangements. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

May 10, 2023

SINGAPORE – Operators of nightlife establishments at Orchard Towers say they are struggling to find alternative sites for their clubs, even with the extension of a deadline for the outlets to cease public entertainment operations in the development.

Harry, who declined to give his full name, said operators were told they could switch to running eateries to remain at the mixed-development site.

In response to queries from The Straits Times, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) said operators could switch to other commercial uses such as family restaurants, shops, or gyms and fitness centres.

Harry, who manages two bars at Orchard Towers, said: “We have been in the nightclub business for 25 years, and we have no idea how to run a restaurant.”

The 58-year-old added that the space the bars occupy does not have the facilities to operate as restaurants.

“For example, we would have to install exhaust vents to disperse the fumes, which would cost a lot of money.

“The idea for us to change to a restaurant is as good as telling us to close down,” he added.

In July 2022, the police informed business operators and property owners that they would not renew public entertainment licences for outlets at Orchard Towers beyond May 31, 2023.

Nightlife establishments at Orchard Towers include Jamboree Bar & Cafe, Top 5 and Orchard Supreme KTV.

After receiving feedback from operators and the Singapore Nightlife Business Association, the police announced on April 13 an extension of the deadline to end-July, to facilitate the nightlife outlets’ transition to alternative arrangements.

Harry said he has been scouting for alternative sites for his clubs since the announcement in 2022.

“I called the Urban Redevelopment Authority and asked them for help, and if we could move to places like International Building, Cuppage Plaza and Orchard Plaza. But they said that we cannot operate as nightclubs there.

“They then directed me to CapitaLand to inquire about potential locations, but CapitaLand told me that they don’t have any premises that we could use as a nightclub.

“Where do we go from here? We are all lost,” said Harry.

Orchard Towers in the evening on April 21. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

A URA spokesman said operators of nightlife establishments at Orchard Towers could relocate their operations to other suitable commercial premises.

But real estate groups like CapitaLand are seeing near-full capacity at their buildings.

CapitaLand Integrated Commercial Trust’s financial result for 2022 showed retail occupancy was at 98.3 per cent as at Dec 31, 2022. This figure excluded CQ @ Clarke Quay, which is still undergoing rejuvenation works.

ST understands that Far East Organization has received inquiries from tenants at Orchard Towers as well, and is reviewing their space requirements and assessing tenant mix and availability of suitable spaces at its retail properties.

The URA spokesman said operators of nightlife establishments at Orchard Towers could also apply for change of use of premises, but it will be subject to evaluation.

Factors such as prevailing policies and guidelines, compatibility with surrounding uses, potential impact to neighbours, and input from relevant agencies will be considered.

“Generally, new nightlife establishments will not be allowed near residential developments or within areas where we have received adverse feedback from the local community about disamenities caused by such uses,” added the URA spokesman.

Huttons senior director of research Lee Sze Teck said it may be more suitable for the nightlife operators to take over premises that already have a public entertainment licence, but this is not easy in the current climate.

He said: “Operators at places that were recently sold en bloc like Peace Centre and Golden Mile are also looking for alternative locations, so the demand is high.”

Peace Centre, which at its height housed more than a dozen nightclubs at its Sophia Road site, was sold for $650 million in 2021 together with Peace Mansion.

Several Thai-themed nightclubs and karaoke lounges also operated at Golden Mile Complex, a mixed-development building in Beach Road which was sold for $700 million in 2022.

Earlier in 2023, The Straits Times reported that a number of nightclubs had moved into Sim Lim Square after the police granted public entertainment licences for businesses in the electronics and IT mall.

Patrons entering Club JD in Sim Lim Square on Jan 6. PHOTO: ST FILE

But many owners of the 492 units in Sim Lim Square are also trying to have the six-storey building sold en bloc.

Harry said that he is hoping to be allowed to complete his recently signed leases at Orchard Towers or receive some help to get out of the leases. Both leases run out in 2025.

An operator of another two establishments at Orchard Towers is hoping rules will be relaxed, so that he can continue his business at a location within the city area and keep his 40 staff employed.

He said: “They left during Covid-19 and did other jobs. After we reopened, they quit their jobs and came back… They enjoy working with us.”

Nightlife establishments were forced to shut on March 26, 2020, due to the worsening Covid-19 situation, but were allowed to fully reopen from April 19, 2022.

Harry said: “We got excited when we could return after Covid-19 as we had debts that we needed to pay. We called the landlord and signed three-year leases, but soon after, we were told that we needed to leave Orchard Towers.”

Orchard Towers is a strata-titled development, and the units are owned by different individuals and businesses.

“During Covid-19, we were closed. But we continued paying rent and we took loans to support this. How are we going to pay the banks back? We may (end up in) bankruptcy,” said Harry.

Many nightlife establishments were allowed to pivot to becoming eateries during the pandemic, before reverting to their original business.

But the five nightlife establishments at Orchard Towers were not allowed this temporary conversion.

Concerns over law and order issues at Orchard Towers led to the ban on public entertainment outlets at the mixed-development site, which includes two towers – one at the corner of Claymore Road and Orchard Road, and the other at Claymore Drive.

John, who operates a KTV lounge at the Claymore Drive tower, said it has been hard to find a suitable place to rehouse his 15,000 sq ft establishment.

He finally found a location, but the rent was $20 per sq ft – about double what he is currently paying.

“With such a big space, we cannot afford to pay the ($300,000) rent,” said John.

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