Monday 18 February 2019

Oasis Terraces: HDB's first new-generation neighbourhood centre opens in Punggol

HDB launches first of its new neighbourhood centres
Centre in Punggol developed by HDB after taking in residents' feedback
By Joanna Seow, Manpower Correspondent, The Straits Times, 18 Feb 2019

The first of a new generation of neighbourhood malls, developed by the Housing Board with the feedback of residents, has opened in Punggol.

Oasis Terraces, a seven-storey mall next to Oasis LRT station, has more open spaces for people to gather and a tenant mix meant to address the needs of those living in the neighbourhood.

Based on feedback gathered in 2014 during early planning stages, the waterfront development includes family-friendly eateries, playgrounds, a 24-hour fitness centre and a supermarket that stays open until 11pm.

More of such projects are in the pipeline. Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong, who opened Oasis Terraces yesterday, said there will be five more coming up in the next three years.

Citing his experience growing up in Marine Terrace, he said HDB centres foster a special sense of emotional connection as people frequent the same shops and children play with neighbours in the community spaces.

"It's what planners call a third place, a place outside of home and work where people get together, socialise, and you can build that sense of community. That's why HDB neighbourhood centres are special, and that's why we are committed to building them," he said at the new mall's community plaza.

Oasis Terraces marks the comeback of HDB in building and developing these retail spaces in the heartland, called neighbourhood centres. In 2000, it allowed private developers to take the lead to tap their expertise in developing suburban commercial malls.

But in 2015, HDB decided to take over again, as the private developers were not keen to build in new towns until a critical mass of residents moved in. This meant those who moved in earlier did not have sufficient amenities.

Mr Wong said that as master planner, HDB can ensure new centres are well integrated with transportation nodes and the overall plans for the towns. And unlike a private developer, HDB is not out to maximise commercial returns, so the centres are designed with more community spaces for residents to mingle in.

Oasis Terraces, for instance, has community gardens and a fitness corner on the rooftop, besides its 106 shops.

Shops are allocated to tenants through a tender process, and decisions are based not just on price but also on qualitative factors such as the business concept and operating model, said Mr Wong. This allows HDB to better manage the tenant mix to address residents' needs so centres are not dominated by a certain type of shop or service, he said.

Of the five more new-generation neighbourhood malls being built, Buangkok Square in Hougang will start operating this year. Canberra Plaza in Sembawang will see works completed this year, Hougang Rivercourt in Hougang and Northshore Plaza in Punggol will be completed next year, and Anchorvale Village in Sengkang by 2022.

There are a total of 110 existing neighbourhood centres across Singapore, some of which comprise low-rise shop units, which are being upgraded over time.

Other pioneering features of Oasis Terraces include an entrepreneur cluster for start-ups to run physical stores at lower rents than in other commercial buildings.

About 30 Punggol residents took part in four focus-group discussions about Oasis Terraces from June to August 2014. They had indicated they wanted shops and facilities that open late, more family-friendly dining options as well as sports and recreation facilities.

Punggol residents Benjamin Ho, 38, and Christina Tan, 37, said they have been visiting the mall almost every day since last year for meals after picking up their two sons from school.

"There's more variety with the foodcourt... Before this, we would eat at coffee shops but there were limited options," said Mr Ho, who also uses the gym.

Start-ups enjoy lower rents at new-generation neighbourhood centre
By Joanna Seow, Manpower Correspondent, The Straits Times, 18 Feb 2019

After two years of selling women's clothing online through their business Mini House, Mr Adrian Tan, 38, and his wife Tran Vu Yen Vy, 34, seized the chance to open a physical store when they secured a good deal on the rent.

They live next to new mall and neighbourhood centre Oasis Terraces in Punggol Drive, and their business is among 10 start-ups in the entrepreneur cluster on the third floor of the seven-storey building.

Mr Tan said they pay about $765 a month as rent, which includes utilities. The rent is about a quarter of what they would have to pay at Waterway Point in Punggol Central, about a 20-minute walk away, he added.

Oasis Terraces, which officially opened yesterday, is the first new-generation neighbourhood centre developed by the Housing Board. Five more centres will be completed by 2022.

HDB, which is the landlord for the mall but has a managing agent to oversee the leasing, said the entrepreneurs enjoy lower costs and rents as the store spaces come with fittings such as flooring and lighting. It said the aim of the entrepreneur cluster is to add more variety to the mix of shops.

For Ms Vy, who runs Mini House with her friend, Ms Tran Thi Chan, 31, having a physical store provides customers with assurance that it is a legitimate business. "People can also come and see the products for themselves," she said. Previously, customers would place orders after watching their livestream on Facebook where they introduce their products.

Some of the mall tenants are also selling their products on Lazada, as part of a tie-up between the e-commerce platform and the Housing Board. Among them is Green-on-Go owner Deepika Jindal, 35, who opened a store in the entrepreneur cluster in November last year, selling eco-friendly products such as stainless steel straws.

The mother of two, who was a housewife before, said sales have been better than expected both online and in the physical store. "We are trying to provide more affordable and stylish options," she said. "With the lower rent here, we can compete with online prices."

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