City & Country: Converting heritage buildings for economic gain

The preservation of heritage structures can be highly profitable if managed correctly, says James Wong, managing director of VPC Alliance, who believes these pre-war shophouses can be converted into a commercially viable area for tourism-related developments such as boutique hotels, antique shops and arts and crafts showrooms.

Wong says this is possible because of the area’s rich historical and cultural past, as well as good accessibility thanks to the several LRT stations in the area and the intercity buses routes in this section of town. There is also the proven commercial success of Jalan Petaling, Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown.

“With good planning and marketing, the commercial success of Jalan Petaling can be replicated on other streets in the area,” he says.
Wong: With good planning and marketing, the commercial success of Jalan Petaling can be replicated on other streets in the area
Jalan Petaling, also known as Petaling Street by the locals, had been a tourist magnet for years before it was officially christened Chinatown. Myriad stalls selling everything under the sun can be found here.

Over the years, Jalan Petaling has been redeveloped and is now home to numerous budget hotels, retail shops and F&B outlets that cater to the tourist dollar. It is near Puduraya, the city’s main bus terminal, and is also accessible via other forms of public transport like the LRT and taxis.

However, Wong feels that more needs to be done to replicate Jalan Petaling’s success. He feels that redevelopment has to be carried out on a continuous basis to maintain momentum.

“Old bank buildings in the area could be a continuous source of redevelopment sites, but these may be impractical currently due to the stringent Bank Negara regulations on the relocation of bank branches, especially for foreign-owned banks,” he says.

Currently, only the headquarters of HSBC and Bangkok Bank are within the vicinity.

Wong suggests that the Kuala Lumpur City Hall, or Dewan Bandaraya Kuala Lumpur (DBKL), work with Bank Negara to find a way to relocate the banks to make way for redevelopment.

DBKL should also look into reorganising the road system in selected areas and even convert some roads into pure pedestrian walkways.

“DBKL should provide incentives to encourage the Singapore model of en bloc sales to combine blocks of pre-war shops into larger development parcels to be sold via open tender for redevelopment based on the most creative, innovative and cost-effective proposals while preserving these heritage buildings and protecting the interests of the existing shop occupants,” he adds.

This article appeared in City & Country, the property pullout of The Edge Malaysia, Issue 795, Mar 1-7, 2010.

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