When the first phase of the Gardens by the Bay in Singapore is completed in early 2011, it will provide a much-needed breath of fresh air amid a credit crunch and a global recession. The ambition of the National Parks Board (NParks) — the government body that oversees over 300 parks and nature reserves, including Singapore Botanic Gardens, Fort Canning Park, East Coast Park and Bukit Timah Nature Reserve — is to put the 110ha Gardens by the Bay on the world map as a premier attraction akin to what “Central Park is to New York and Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, is to London”, according to Sherene Sng, director of retail at property consulting firm, Knight Frank. 

If NParks’ vision is realised, the Gardens by the Bay will be more than just a place for a leisurely stroll, a picnic, a backdrop for photographic shoots (especially bridal) or a setting for films and TV programs. It can also be turned into a niche F&B and lifestyle hub. To that end, NParks has engaged Knight Frank to handle the launch of about 100,000 sq ft of commercial space within the first phase of the Gardens by the Bay — the 54ha Gardens at Marina South.

The plan is to have 20 to 30 stand-alone restaurants of 3,000 to 5,000 sq ft each scattered across the park. “It’s going to be a world-class offering and we hope to bring in Michelin-class chefs,” says Sng. She says that “while retailers are suffering as consumers tighten their belts, F&B still has some life in it”.

There will also be a food court, which will be four to five times larger than the restaurants, but also with a garden theme. This way, the range of F&B will cater to both the masses as well as the upper end of the market, adds Sng. She doesn’t see the restaurants at the Gardens competing with those at the Marina Bay Sands’ integrated resort, which will also feature celebrity-chef restaurants. “The expectations here will be different,” says Sng. “While the celebrity-chef restaurants at the [Marina Bay Sands] IR will be more indoors, the Gardens by the Bay will have a garden setting, and bring al fresco dining to the fore.”

Restaurant owners at The Gardens by the Bay are expected to build their own restaurant buildings, and Sng estimates that it will cost S$1 million (RM2.4 million) to S$2 million to do so. In accordance with the garden theme, the restaurants are also expected to use natural, rustic materials. Sng estimates that it generally takes restaurants two to four years to break even.

As part of the infrastructure works, NParks is also planning to build underground parking space.
The retail element is forgotten. Apart from the restaurants, other commercial elements could include coffee places, souvenir shops, art galleries, exhibition spaces and even a garden-themed spa.
The launch of the commercial sites at The Gardens at Marina Bay is expected to be launched “soon”, says Sng. Leases for the commercial spaces will be for an initial three years, renewable for two additional three-year terms ( 3+3+3 year leases).  

Knight Frank is planning to approach established restaurant groups known for their creative concepts to explore their interest in the sites. Local players like George Quek, chairman and founder of Singapore-listed Breadtalk Group, reported to have been involved in the initial consultative study of the viability of Gardens by the Bay, are said to be a possibility, although Sng declined to confirm this.

Another potential candidate is said to be the Les Amis Group, founded in 1994. Its flagship Les Amis restaurant is in Shaw Centre on Orchard Road. It now owns a string of nine restaurants including Au Jardin (French for “in the garden”), opened in 1998 featuring French cuisine and housed in a restored Black-and-White bungalow located within the Singapore Botanic Gardens.

There are also plans to court overseas restaurateurs who may be interested in establishing a foothold in Singapore. 

The entire Gardens by the Bay spans 101ha, and will be completed in stages — first the Gardens at Marina South, followed by the Gardens at Marina East, and Gardens at Marina Centre. The design of the Gardens by the Bay is by renowned landscape architect, UK-based Grant Associates, which specialises in sustainable garden design.

The main attractions will be two large dome-like conservatories with soaring ceilings up to 50m high. To be called “Cool Moist” and “Cool Dry”, each will replicate the environments of the tropical highlands and Mediterranean regions respectively, as well as showcase the wide variety of flora that thrive in such environments. According to Sng, there are also plans to have a restaurant as well as exhibition space for conferences and seminars in each of the domes.

Other attractions will include “Super Trees”, which are actually vertical gardens of 25m to 50m high; themed gardens, such as the Horticultural Show Gardens, featuring the best of tropical horticulture and garden artistry; and the Plant Edutainment Gardens, showcasing plants with useful properties to man. “We want to instil an appreciation for nature, plants and flowers,” she adds.

With all this in place, come 2011, the Gardens at Marina South could be transformed into yet another niche dining and lifestyle destination in Singapore.

*This article first appeared in City & Country Singapore in the week of January 26, 2009

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