Can sensible real estate developments increase the quality of life? The answer seems to be affirmative if one looks at Kedah’s latest and largest mall.
ALOR SETAR’S Aman Central, which held its soft opening last October, is now “the place” to go for folks in Kota Setar and the neighbouring districts.
In fact, people living in southern Thailand are also drawn to this eight-storey mall that has turned out to be Kedah’s largest sensation for this year.
Built by Penang-based Belleview Group, the mall with a built-up area of 116,128sq m (nett lettable space of 72,464sqm) spread across six levels of 330 retail shops and 60 mini shops, is now the must-visit place for both young and old in the state.
Even as Penang grapples with a retail space glut, with 7.6 million sq ft (706,063sq m) of retail space expected to be added over the next five years, Kedah is not showing any sign of heading that way.
Five years in the making, Aman Central boasts of 357 shoplots over eight levels, including two floors of al fresco dining.
Golden Screen Cinemas (GSC), together with Parkson Department Store (biggest in the region at 140,000sq ft or 13,000sq m) and Sam’s Groceria (Kedah’s first premium supermarket) are the anchor tenants, while junior tenants include Aman Bowl, H&M, Uniqlo, FOS, SportsDirect.com, SenQ, Popular and CHI Fitness. Other specialty tenants include Starbucks, The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, and Dave’s Deli.
In terms of entertainment, Aman Central hosts the largest GSC multiplex in Kedah, with 10 halls. Spanning 3,716sq m on the fourth floor, the cinema offers more than 1,500 seats.
The Aman Central cineplex, built at a cost of RM30.5mil, marked GSC’s fifth new cinema for 2015, following those at NU Sentral, Ipoh Parade, IOI City Mall Putrajaya and Klang Parade.
GSC Sdn Bhd chief executive officer Koh Mei Lee said movie fans in northern Kedah no longer need to travel to Sungai Petani or Penang to enjoy movies in a classy setting.
“We are honoured to bring to movie fans in Kedah and the southern part of Thailand, GSC’s total movie experience, which is well known by movie goers in our Klang Valley cinemas.”
To complete the shopping experience, there are over 1,700 parking bays with sensors to help drivers quickly spot vacant lots.
Belleview Group managing director Datuk Sonny Ho said Aman Central is an exciting synergy that would change the retail landscape of Kedah and the northern region.
“Since its successful soft opening on Oct 1 last year, we have recorded an average of one million shoppers per month. We are proud to announce that the number has been steadily growing,” said Ho in his speech at the mall’s grand opening ceremony on March 28.
“To date, the mall has achieved 95% occupancy. Its growth and future possibilities as well as our support for local traders have created an additional 5,000 job opportunities for Kedahans,” Ho added.
Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Ahmad Bashah Md Hanipah, who was present along with the Yang di-Pertuan Agong Tuanku Abdul Halim Mu’adzam Shah at the grand opening, said the Ruler’s presence at the event showed he was concerned with developments in the state.
“Kedah is gifted with a new icon, which will elevate the status of Alor Setar as a progressive city,” he said of Aman Central.
In an interview with The Star in February, Ho said: “We want to bring into Alor Setar more facility- and service-oriented development projects. We opened Aman Central Mall last October and it has been a crowd-puller ever since. We expect some 1.3 million shoppers from mid-January till the end of this month.”
The Belleview group has more plans for Alor Setar, and has identified the location where a private hospital costing RM200mil would be built – a 1.21ha site in downtown Alor Setar.
“There is demand for a quality healthcare service provider in a growing town like Alor Setar,” he said, adding that a business class hotel estimated to cost around RM150mil will also be proposed on a 0.6ha site in town.
Meanwhile, Aman Central can bask in the glory of having won the Highly Recommended Award in the Retail Development Category in Malaysia at the recent Asia Pacific Property Awards 2015-2016.
Award-winning or not, the mall has brought welcome change to the town. N. Sivanathan, 67, a retired technical assistant, said the mall is a boon even for retirees. “We now have a nice place to hang out, and there is a variety of food outlets to tickle our palate. There is also a good selection of branded outlets so we don’t have to travel to Penang or elsewhere to shop for clothing. Parking is a breeze and the charges are reasonable.”
For teacher Amelia Ching, 48, Aman Central brought a slew of established brands to town, and with that, heralded a kind of lifestyle previously not seen in Alor Setar. “I guess for one, the big brands have finally made their presence known. Starbucks-lifestyle, you know, like hanging out in a chic place with a cup of expensive coffee and something to go along with it. H&M with its not-very-Alor Setar kind of clothing line... Life has changed for sure. And yes, paying for parking via machines has entered mainstream Alor Setar life, too.”
For Kang Soon Chen, 30, younger people have more places to hang out with the opening of places like Starbucks, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Baskin Robbins, GSC cinemas and so on.
“That probably brings about a change in the lifestyle and spending habits of the people in Alor Setar. They no longer have to travel to Penang to shop as many popular brands like H&M and Uniqlo are now available. That was something I didn’t have growing up in the late 1990s.
“But this also spells trouble for smaller malls and existing supermarkets, while kids from a small town like Alor Star are likely to be more demanding now.”
Belleview’s next challenge is to convince Kedahan’s to live in high-rise or strata-titled properties, especially in the form of Amansuri Residences, billed as the first luxury condominium in Alor Setar.
With rice fields being an increasingly rare sight around Alor Setar, these ambitious developments will increasingly characterise the Alor Setar conurbation in the years to come, in tandem with Kedah’s industrialisation.