Sunday, April 5, 2009

New Fort Canning clubhouse delayed

Members of The Legends Fort Canning Park, keen to use its new promised clubhouse, will just have to wait.

The six-year-old town club closed last October for a $25 million makeover. All renovation and construction work will take about six months, members were told.

But they received a letter from the management last month saying that work will be completed only at year's end.

Earlier, some members had already been upset that their original clubhouse was being turned into a boutique hotel.

And now, they are told the opening of their new clubhouse is being delayed.

While renovation work on the original clubhouse - a colonial conservation building - has started, the first bricks for the adjacent new clubhouse have not even been laid. The three-storey glass building, to be built on the existing tennis court, will have facilities such as a gymnasium, a spa and two swimming pools.

'The netting at the tennis court was still up the last time I checked a few weeks ago. Nothing's been done,' said club member Joe Nguyen, 38, a regional manager.

Club owner Oh Chee Eng told The Sunday Times the club had to revise its plans after the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) said the blueprint submitted did not comply with its guidelines.

The URA is in charge of conservation buildings. Under its guidelines, there is a ratio for recreational versus commercial space.

The club has had to forgo several hotel loft suites and resize some rooms to get the ratio right.

The recent credit crunch also threw a spanner in the works. The project is being funded by shareholders and bank borrowings.

The club's owners are Mr Oh, its chief executive officer; Mr Goh Eng Wah, chairman of listed Eng Wah Organisation; and Ms Goh Min Yen, Eng Wah's managing director.

Mr Oh will submit the new drawings to the URA in the next few weeks and hopes to start work quickly, so the hotel and club can be up and running before the year is out.
He has not retrenched any staff but has been training them to gear up for the new hotel and club.

'We may be a proprietary club, but we are still committed to providing good service and running a good club,' said Mr Oh.

Unlike a members' club, those belonging to an owners' club like The Legends have no say in how the club is managed.

Still, that did not stop Mr Nguyen from starting a blog and a petition last year to air his grievance over the decision to turn the clubhouse into a hotel, and for telling members about the temporary closure less than one month before it shut.

The petition, with about 40 signatures, was sent to the URA asking the authority to halt the renovation work.

The club had hoped the hotel would help boost its earnings. It has a membership of only 1,200 - just 10 per cent of its target. It will now cap membership at 3,000 because of the downsized club facilities.

Non-golfing members have had their monthly subscription fees suspended in the meantime, and the club has also found alternative gyms for them, at special rates.

Despite the delay, food and beverage operator Garibaldi Group of Restaurants remains committed to opening three dining outlets in the heritage building: Italian fine-dining restaurant Gattopardo, Japanese restaurant Wakaba and a wine bar lounge, T70.

Managing director Roberto Galetti hopes to start renovation by the middle of this month so the restaurants can open by the end of July, even while renovation in other areas of the building goes on.

Some members, like Mr Jerald Allen, 55, are anxiously waiting. 'Get the place up and open as soon as possible, because we're dying to go back in there,' said the chairman of a media company.

Source: Straits Times, 5 April 2009

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