MODERN shophouses are mushrooming on the banks of Sungai Merah along the Heritage Walk and also along a section of Brooke Drive between the Federal Complex and Island Club, turning this once sleepy bazaar into a vibrant commercial centre in Sibu.
Located 4km from the town centre, the Sungai Merah Bazaar is positioned between several residential areas, industrial and recreational parks, schools, a college, churches and government offices.
It is well connected via a network of roads, particularly the main Brooke Drive and Tun Abang Haji Openg.
Its importance will be enhanced with the completion in the middle of next year of the Sibu-Tanjung Manis Road, which will pass through the bazaar.
The bazaar site was the landing point for Foochow settlers who arrived in Sibu from Fuzou in southern China from 1901 to 1903.
They were led by a Methodist missionary Reverend Wong Nai Siong, who brought 1,118 Foochow pioneers in three batches to farm the land around Sibu.
Sibu, however, did not grow and expand around Sungai Merah.
In the last 100 years, the development had been concentrated around the township at the confluence of the Rajang and Igan rivers, a place formerly called Maling.
The old Sungai Merah Bazaar consisted of a few rows of double-storey wooden shophouses until the 1970s when some were replaced by concrete buildings.
One row in the centre of the bazaar was burnt down in 1985 and was replaced by concrete shophouses.
The last row of single-storey wooden shops, which mostly sold local fruits, was demolished in August this year to make way for a 3-storey block of concrete shophouses.
The latest wave of development in Sungai Merah, which began five years ago, will see the construction of 170 units of 3-storey modern shophouses in two to three years.
“These new shophouses are an increase of more than fourfold. I am afraid there will be an oversupply of shophouses when they are completed,” said businessman Johnny Wong Sie Lee.
Wong, who is chairman of the Sarawak Central Region Hotel Association, grew up in Sungai Merah.
He also voiced concerns over the traffic jams that Sungai Merah currently faced.
He said, while the Sibu Municipal Council (SMC) was planning to turn a section of Tun Abang Haji Openg Road leading to the Sungai Merah Bazaar into a one-way street, it should consider widening and upgrading the Wong Ting Hock Road so that some of the traffic could be diverted to Sungai Antu.
“SMC should ask the shop and factory owners in Wong Ting Hock Road to remove the goods, disused machinery and spare parts obstructing the flow of traffic,” Wong said.
He said that Ding Lik Kwong Road, leading to several light industrial estates and warehouses, should also be widened and upgraded as traffic congestion there was getting serious.
Meanwhile, the authorities are upgrading the section of Brooke Drive from the Federal Complex to Laila Taib College.
When completed, the dual carriageway will ensure a smoother flow of traffic in the area.