CM: Potential money-spinning plan sacrificed for heritage square project

New project: A filepic of the fenced-up area where the old Sia Boey market used to operate. The state govt has decided to turn the 1.82ha site into an Art and Heritage Square.

The Penang government has scrapped its initial plans to build a RM500mil income-generating commercial cum residential development at the former Sia Boey Market site.

Instead, a RM100mil Penang Art and Heritage Square will be built on the 1.82ha site.

Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng said the initial plans were scrapped to give the place back to the society.

“If we had gone ahead with the original proposal, our economic value would be RM500mil but instead of generating the RM500mil, we will be spending RM100mil for the community.

“Therefore, the opportunity cost is RM600mil. However, I believe that we would be able to get back the amount or more in the long run,” he told a press conference at his office in Komtar, Penang, yesterday.

He said the square would be built on prime land in the heart of George Town which could easily cost up to RM30mil per 0.4ha.

“What we are doing is to try and bring art to Penang in a big way and use it as an economic catalyst that can drive urban regeneration.

“We are looking at participation from the private sector to reduce the RM100mil cost,” he said.

When asked on the economic projection for the state on the project, Lim said it had never been done before in Malaysia.

“Take South Bank in London for example. What used to be an abandoned area has been regenerated with the Tate Modern gallery,’ he said.

He added that the commencement date of the project would only be revealed next month.

Petaling Jaya Utara MP Tony Pua, who was also present at the press conference, said existing shops at the site would be restored.

“We will be inviting galleries from Penang, Kuala Lumpur and the region to participate in this unique art space.

“There will be an art museum, library, galleries or shops selling art, craft market, hawker centre and a huge open park where people can appreciate sculptures and enjoy morning walks,” he said.

“It is a unique opportunity and I believe that every capital city worth its salt will have a landmark that everyone would want to visit,” he added.

Art expert Valentine Willie said Penang needed such a dedicated space with the growth of George Town Festival.

“In the 30s and 50s, Penang was a cultural hub of Southeast Asia with the boom of rubber and tin.

“Many tycoons and the British had houses in Penang. It was a sophisticated city even before Singapore and we plan to re-create that here,” he said. - By The Star

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