New life for Island Plaza

Revival plans: Island Plaza is due for redevelopment and a re-design. — CHAN BOON KAI/The Star

GEORGE TOWN: The little enclave of Tanjong Tokong is set for a new revival.

A Hong Kong businessman, who is among many on the lookout for prime land and buildings in the state, has snapped up the long-neglected Island Plaza in the area and promises to make it a big draw again.

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The buyer, known only as Law, said he would bring Hong Kong’s creative economy – musical and performing arts, film and television production – to the mall.

As an added attraction, there will be the former British colony’s iteration of the coffeeshop, called cha chan teng in Cantonese, which literally means “tea and dishes hall”.

Cha chan teng is characterised by a casual dining atmosphere, with a menu of fine-dining delicacies on top of Hong Kong’s street food.

Island Plaza has been sold for an undisclosed sum to the real estate tycoon who said he would bring all the successful retailing strategies of Hong Kong to the state.

“What we learned from turning Hong Kong into an international destination for culinary arts and fashion, we will bring to Penang,” he said.

He said had fallen in love with the peace and prosperity in the state.

“You can have a plate of noodles for a few ringgit or a hundred ringgit, and they will all be delicious.

“In terms of living cost, Penang is 1/15 (6.66%) of the cost in Hong Kong (for an upscale lifestyle). Yet, whatever Hong Kong has, you have,” Law said.

For more than a decade, Hong Kong folk, including its celebrities, have been settling down in Penang.

Many came here to retire, but in recent years, Hong Kongers began buying properties for investment.

The Star reported recently that Hong Kong investors had bought the last few old bungalows along the popular Gurney Drive promenade.

Law himself came to Penang six years ago.

“I have an insurance agent of more than 20 years who is Penang-born. He kept urging me to come to Penang for a holiday,” he said.

On his first holiday here, Law kept extending his stay.

“I chose Eastern and Oriental Hotel. It was more beautiful than the best traditional hotel in Hong Kong.

“It was then RM600 to RM700 a night here. In Hong Kong, it would have been RM2,000 a night,” he said.

The real estate mogul began shopping for Penang properties on his first trip and bought his first home here – an almost 11,000sq ft super condo in Gurney Drive.

Each time he returned, he bought at least one more property.

“I own more than 10 properties in Penang now, including a private museum and a boutique hotel in the heritage enclave,” said Law, who is his 70s.

On his first Penang holiday, Law said he was sad to see many beggars and drunkards outside his hotel.

“After a few years, I no longer see them. Penang is getting better and this kind of socio-economic progress is really rare,” he said.

Mega Realty Sdn Bhd principal Jenny Yeap, who is running Island Plaza’s leasing office now, confirmed that plans for the redevelopment and re-design, including a hi-tech facade of the mall, were submitted to the city council.

“We are negotiating with many large anchor tenants to set up shop in Island Plaza now,” she added.

Yeap said Island Plaza was sold to Law just before the movement control order was imposed on March 18, 2020.

The mall is a landmark in Penang because it heralded a new phase of consumerism in the 1990s.

Opened in December 1995, the 500,000sq ft mall was then reported to be worth RM200mil.

In 2016, a business periodical reported that a retail mall investment fund bought Island Plaza for RM120mil in 2007 and pumped in RM40mil to refurbish it.

It was the only other large shopping complex besides Komtar in 1995 and enticed luxury concept stores, including Versace, Fila, Oshkosh B’gosh, Polo Santa Barbara and Mizuno, to open for the first time in Penang.

However, many new shopping complexes mushroomed later, sending Island Plaza into the background.

Malaysian Shopping Malls Association adviser Richard Chan said shopping complexes required frequent regeneration.

“They have to shed their skins every now and then. Change is the only constant. The colours, concepts, even the types of retailers must be changed constantly.

“It’s not about the size of the mall. It will be a challenge to bring Island Plaza back to its glory days, but it is a good challenge,” he said.

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