Flashback #Star50: Komtar still an icon in Penang

IT was quite a feat in the 1980s.

Komtar was Malaysia’s first building over 200m tall with 65 storeys when it was completed in 1985. It also held the distinction of being Asia’s second tallest tower then, second only to Sunshine 60 in Tokyo.

The cylindrical tower with a height of 232m held the title of Malaysia’s tallest tower for three years.

But it remains Penang’s tallest skyscraper until today.

Komtar, an acronym for Kompleks Tun Abdul Razak, was named after Malaysia’s second prime minister Tun Abdul Razak Hussein who officiated the piling works in 1974.

The mega project was conceptualised as a city within a city. It was a vision of then Penang Chief Minister Dr Lim Chong Eu to revitalise the urban centre of George Town.

The architect-cum-urban designer involved in the building’s design was Datuk Seri Lim Chong Keat, the younger brother of Dr Lim.

It occupied an area of at least 11ha, bounded by Penang Road, Prangin Road, Magazine Road and Carnarvon Street while traffic continued to flow on the ground level along Tek Soon Street, Jalan Ria and Lebuh Lintang within Komtar.

Gladstone Road which once ran through the area was wiped off the map when the construction of Komtar started.

The tower is not without its drama.

In January 1983, while still under construction, a fire broke out on the 43rd floor and destroyed the floors above.

Firemen could not reach the blaze then due to the height.

The fire eventually burned itself out after eight hours.

The Star’s office helper R. Chandramohan, 60, could recall vividly the day the fire broke out.

“From far, we could see smoke billowing out from the tower. Everybody was wondering what was going on. Those days, we didn’t have social media or mobile devices to find out.

“Word spread around town and we were so anxious to find out what was happening, ” he said.

Retired chief photographer of The Star, Ng Ah Bak, 65, who was then a field photographer, said all resources were focused on the blaze that day.

“We received the first call alerting us about the fire and soon phones started ringing.

“All other photographers and journalists were asked to drop their assignments and scrambled to Komtar.

“The town was chaotic and shoplots around Komtar were afraid that the fire right above them might harm them as debris was falling from the tower.

“I remember getting really good shots of the fire, including some from Jalan Dr Lim Chwee Leong, ” he said.

For years since then, Komtar consisted of retail outlets, administrative offices for the government and a transportation hub.

In 2015, it was revitalised and three more storeys were added to the tower, giving it a total height of 249m and 68 storeys to house more attractions such as a restaurant on levels 59 and 60.

Occupying almost the entire floor, the restaurant on Level 59 created much buzz when it first opened.

Corporate functions, anniversaries and even wedding dinners would be held there. Tourists from all over the world came to experience a panoramic view of the city as there was an open deck at the top.

Penang’s first Urban Transformation Centre that houses 10 agencies was opened in Komtar in August last year.

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