55-year-old hotel to make way for MRT

55-year-old hotel to make way for MRT 

Backpacker haven New 7th Storey Hotel site acquired for Downtown Line station

 

THE New 7th Storey Hotel, a 55-year-old landmark in Rochor Road, will check out its last guest by the end of the year.

It will then have to make way for the construction of the new Bugis MRT station for the upcoming Downtown Line.

 

Government agencies said yesterday that the plot of land housing the hotel will be needed to build parts of the new station, such as the entrance and lifts.

 

The new Bugis station is one of six that will form Downtown Line Stage 1, to open in 2013.

 

Constraints in the area have left the authorities no choice but to build the new station under the hotel popular with budget travellers and backpackers.

 

The hotel’s operations manager Shirley Fong, 32, said that the management heard the news only yesterday afternoon.

 

Government officers had showed up with notices of the land acquisition.

 

‘We had no advance notice at all. All our staff were taken aback,’ said Ms Fong.

 

Explaining this, a Singapore Land Authority (SLA) spokesman said that registered land owners were notified immediately only after the land acquisition was announced on the same day in the Government Gazette.

 

This is because information on land acquisition is kept confidential, to ensure that no one has an advantage over others.

 

Ms Fong said that the hotel management will have a meeting soon to decide on its plans. It will also have to deal with about 30 guests who have made advance reservations for early next year.

 

The hotel, which actually has nine storeys despite its name, was opened in 1953 by the late property magnate Wee Thiam Siew. It has largely remained in the Wee family since then.

 

In its early days, the then-five-star hotel was popular with politicians and businessmen visiting Singapore.

 

It now caters more to backpackers but retains an air of old-world charm. It still uses a manually operated ‘cage’ lift, reportedly the last of its kind here.

 

Although neighbouring shophouses have been torn down over the years, the hotel has stayed intact. It stands out now as the lone building on a plot of land close to Bugis Junction.

 

‘We sort of knew that the land might be acquired some day for development, but we did not see this coming at all,’ said Ms Fong, who added that the hotel had recently spent $100,000 on new furniture and carpeting.

 

The SLA said that the compensation awarded to the hotel owners will be pegged at market value and take into account renovations, among other factors.

 

Ms Fong’s top concern now is her 20 staff members, whose morale has been hit by the news.

 

One of them, lift operator Francis Poh, 66, said: ‘We are very close here, like a family. It would be a pity to leave.’

 

Next to the hotel lobby in the same building is a Hainanese steamboat restaurant, which will also have to pack its bags by the end of the year.

 

Staff there told reporters that they had not heard of the news and declined to comment further. Their boss, who is renting the restaurant space from the hotel, was overseas.

 

Doctor Chan Shijie, 26, who dines at the restaurant twice a month, was sad to hear that it would have to go.

 

‘The food here is really good and it’s affordable. I hope they move somewhere else,’ he said.

Balloon to go too

THE DHL balloon, operating on a plot of state land next to the hotel, will also have to find a new home.

 

Its lease expires at the end of August, but the Singapore Land Authority has offered it a two-month extension.

 

Singapore Ducktours, which runs the balloon, said it is considering the offer. In the meantime, it has identified two sites to relocate the balloon: Merchant Loop opposite Clarke Quay or the upcoming Gardens by the Bay in Marina Bay.

 

Source: Straits Times

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