By  on July 24, 2009

SINGAPORE — Orchard Road here, the city-state’s main shopping and commercial strip, got a shot in the arm this week with the opening of a highly anticipated mall called ION Orchard.

The 640,000-square-foot mall has eight floors and is situated at the busiest intersection of the famous street, called Orchard Turn. It sits strategically above a subway station and boasts more than 333 stores, with about 70 percent made up of flagships, new-to-market retailers and new concepts.

Commanding prime frontage at ION Orchard are six luxury “superbrands’’ that are establishing their first duplex flagships here. Together, Prada, Cartier, Christian Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, Giorgio Armani and Louis Vuitton take up almost 50,000 square feet of space with impressive 30-foot-high double-story units.

This is nothing to sniff at, considering the brands already have stores nearby. In addition, Orchard Road boasts 4.5 million square feet of retail space, making up 21 percent of the city’s total private retail area. By December, two more malls will open along the stretch, and together with ION Orchard, they will add 1.1 million square feet of shops on the 1.2-mile-long shopping belt.

This saturation has not deterred many retailers, which regard the ION Orchard as the pinnacle of malls. Sebastian Suhl, chief operating officer of Prada SpA, said, “ION Orchard is by far the largest and most important luxury retail development in Singapore in roughly the last decade. The opportunities for our brands were excellent.’’

Apart from Prada’s storefront flagship, Miu Miu will have a prominent unit on the ground floor. The company also is launching Car Shoe and Church here at the ION Orchard, added Suhl, who, while declining to reveal figures, said the total investment amount is “significant.”

In addition to the six flagships, the mall’s tenants stretch from fast fashion through to beauty firms and up to designer shops and high-end jewelers. Companies opening stores in the mall include Seven For All Mankind, Bebe, Burberry, Calvin Klein Jeans, Sephora, Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Jacobs, Louis Vuitton, Ermenegildo Zegna, Diane von Furstenberg, Swatch, Patek Philippe, Dolce & Gabbana, Dsquared2, Guess Accessories, Harry Winston, Kiehl’s, Topshop, Uniqlo, Max Mara, New Look and Valentino.

ION Orchard is the retail component of the Orchard Turn development, which is a venture between two Asian property giants — CapitaLand Group, based here, and Hong Kong’s Sun Hung Kai Properties Ltd. The development also boasts a superluxury 56-story residential component called The Orchard Residences with 175 residential units offering panoramic views of the city. Some 80 percent of the apartments have been sold, at record transaction prices, on a by-invitation-only basis, said Lim Beng Chee, chief executive officer of CapitaLand Retail Ltd.

The venture, which was formed in 2005, also marks Sun Hung Kai’s first foray into the property market here. Jimmy Wong, the company’s real estate agency executive director, said, “When the tender for the sale of the Orchard Turn site came up, we knew that this would be the perfect project to mark our debut in Singapore’s property and retail market. Here was a very strategic site on Orchard Road, a world-renowned street and premier shopping precinct, and the last remaining prime site in Orchard Road that many developers had been eyeing for a very long time.”

Apart from unique fashion, lifestyle, dining and entertainment outlets, the mall intends to set itself apart from its competitors with ION Art, an art program showcasing the best emerging Asian and Singaporean artists.

The upscale mall opens at a time when competition for tenants is intense. Apart from the other malls on Orchard Road, the two upcoming casino-led Integrated Resorts at Marina Bay and Sentosa here are luring high-end retail outlets. However, ION Orchard’s management says it hasn’t wavered from its midhigh-to-high-range tenant mix, even when the economy started to take a turn for the worse last year.

Soon Su Lin, ceo of Orchard Turn Developments Pte. Ltd., said the company is mindful the mall is opening in an “unexpected economic climate,’’ which is why it is collaborating with tenants on various strategies and mall-opening incentives to support their store-opening programs.

“These include opening financial incentives of up to 30 percent of their contracted base rental, and specially designed recruitment and training programs to facilitate their staffing needs. This will be on top of the 40 percent property tax rebate from the government that we will pass on to all tenants.’’

So far, ION Orchard has 94 percent of its leasable space taken up.

Added Soon: “We continue to select suitable retail concepts for the remaining spaces and are confident that ION Orchard is on track to take its place alongside the world’s iconic malls, and will become the new destination for shopping, dining and entertainment.’’

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