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Entertainment, Food & Beverage

Bottle Tree Park can stay till Oct

SLA extends plot's lease; master tenant won't bid high when tender is called.
The Straits Times - January 24, 2013
By: Jessica Lim
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Bottle Tree Park can stay till Oct Sub-tenants, like the operator of the fish pond (above), pay master tenant Planar One a cut of their takings. Non-profit outfit Ground-Up Initiative pays nothing. -- ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

BOTTLE Tree Park in Yishun, popular for its "kampung-like" atmosphere, will stay open until at least October.

But that is unlikely to save the rustic enclave of restaurants and small businesses there. The 7ha plot of state land will eventually be put up for public tender and could be used for other commercial purposes.

Located in Lorong Chencharu, Bottle Tree Park was due to close last year, but master tenant Planar One and Associates successfully fought to get its lease extended.

Its lease will now end on Oct 18, when the Singapore Land Authority will put the plot up for tender to give "all interested parties... an equal opportunity to bid". The lease will be for up to two terms of three years each.

Planar One can submit a bid but managing director Alex Neo, 53, said it will be a modest one as he does not make money from the park.

He is likely to face stiff competition from businesses like recreational fishing, recreational horticulture, a campsite, adventure training ground, plant nursery, agriculture and fish and bird farms.

"We have no intention of changing our operations or become commercialised.

"We will not offer an amount that is much higher than what we are paying now," he said, adding that the place has "heart and soul".

He declined to reveal how much he pays for rent now but said it was only slightly higher than the $15,000 a month he paid when he moved there in 2004.

Then, the land was just an empty plot. He spent about $4 million to build it up, he said.

Father of two Tan Kiam Heong, 43, who was fishing at the park with his family, said he fears the park could end up becoming over-developed.

The engineer, who visits the area a few times a month, said: "My children enjoy it here. It's not easy to find such a place. Singapore is full of shopping centres, not places like this.

"I want my children to experience something different."

Bottle Tree Park has a seafood restaurant, a Japanese eatery, paintball facilities and ponds for fishing.

Unlike many master tenants, Mr Neo does not collect a fixed monthly rent. Instead, sub-tenants pay him a fixed percentage of their monthly earnings.

Mr Kang Ah Chen, 53, who manages the park's fish pond, pays the company $3 for every $15 ticket he sells.

Each ticket allows an adult to fish for an hour. "If business is good, I give more. If it is bad, I give less," he said. "We want to stay. But if the boss closes down, so will we."

Fellow tenant Ground-Up Initiative pays nothing. Mr Tay Lai Hock, founder of the non-profit organisation which offers activities to connect people with nature, said he has "tried to demonstrate to the Government that the land is valuable as a non-commercial entity".

He said: "Now, we just have to let the Government decide. I have done my part."

In response to queries, the SLA said it granted the extension "to facilitate business continuity".

At lunchtime earlier this week, The Straits Times found several people fishing in the park, although the restaurants were empty.

Chesterton Suntec International's head of research and consultancy, Mr Colin Tan, said there is much competition for land, with industries like landscaping and fish farming desperate for space.

"These industries, which are doing business for profit, would definitely be able to bid much higher," he said. "In Singapore, land is scarce. One would expect rentals to have increased significantly over the past few years."

He added that it makes little sense for Planar One to place a high bid. "Doing so would mean that its owner will be continually subsidising the park."

limjess@sph.com.sg

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