Tenants of Upper Barracks, which is part of the former police barracks located on Pearl's Hill in Chinatown, said they are shocked and at a loss upon learning that they would need to relocate after March 2025, when their current lease expires — despite the news not being new.
The tenants will no longer be able to stay on because the premises, previously conserved for their historical significance, are slated for redevelopment for lifestyle purposes, according to Shin Min Daily News.
This plan for the former police barracks was previously announced by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) in a media release issued on Nov. 3, 2023.
In the same media release, URA also said that public housing flats, which include Build-to-Order (BTO) and rental flats, would be built on Pearl's Hill for the first time in more than 40 years.
Additionally, private homes, including condominiums and serviced apartments, will also be progressively developed on the hill over the next decade.
Tenant would not have invested more if he knew lease wouldn't be renewed
Speaking to Shin Min, a manager who has been running a music school at Upper Barracks for three years said he thought the main tenant would have been able to make a successful bid again and renew the lease after it expires in 2025.
"We had just spent over a month and more than S$10,000 to renovate because we thought we could use the space for at least another two years till 2026. We never thought we would need to relocate in around a year's time. This means we would need to start looking for a new place as early as 2024 begins," he said.
The manager also added that if he knew the lease would not be renewed, the school would likely not have spent so much money and energy in sprucing up the place.
Difficult to find another place like Upper Barracks
A store owner who sells goldware and golden jewellery at Upper Barracks also told Shin Min that the young art practitioners on the premises have been looking after one another, kindling a new form of "kampung spirit".
Similarly, a pottery studio manager who rented three units in Upper Barracks shared that since she moved there five years ago, she had witnessed how the vicinity was slowly and organically transformed into a lively art zone.
She said it would be difficult to find another place that shares a similar artistic vibe as Upper Barracks without losing touch with the ground.
Referring to her studio in particular, the manager said she didn't know where she is able to move to next, as her business requires heavy machinery to transport the clay, and her new place needs to be located in close proximity to an MRT station.
Difficult for main tenant to rent out empty units
The development plan for Upper Barracks also posed challenges for the master tenant.
According to the tenant, surnamed Chen (transliteration from Mandarin), he had been facing difficulties in renting out empty units on the premise since URA's announcement earlier in the month.
Currently, there were more than 100 merchants operating at Upper Barracks, which included music schools and art studios.
The occupancy rate is around 70 per cent, revealed Chen.
Chen also said he was mentally prepared to not have his lease renewed upon expiry, even though he had renewed the lease successfully twice since 2016.
After all, the Upper Barracks is a state-owned property, and regardless of what reasons the authorities give for not renewing his lease, he would need to accept it, he said.
"Nevertheless, thanks to everyone's efforts over the years, the Upper Barracks have become a lively sanctuary of art. Every merchant would want to stay on if they had the chance," shared Chen.
Statement from URA
In response to Shin Min, URA said it is currently studying the plans for Upper Barracks and Lower Barracks alongside the development plan for Pearl's Hill.
URA also reiterated that the barracks were first rented out in 2016, and the lease was extended twice.
The current lease will expire in March 2025.
URA said it encourages current tenants to actively search for units elsewhere so that they can continue their operations after their lease expires.
Top images via Google Maps & Shin Min Daily News