Orchard Road got its name from the many nutmeg and fruit orchards that existed in the last century. The fruit orchards have now disappeared and in their place is a bustling, world-famous shopping street.
Stroll along Orchard Road and you will find that nearly all of Singapore’s large property companies have a presence on Orchard Road.
These range from City Developments with St Regis Hotel and Residences, CapitaLand’s Ion Orchard, Far East Organization and its Far East Shopping Centre and Orchard Central.
Overseas Union Enterprise owns the Mandarin Orchard Singapore and Mandarin Gallery, while tycoon Ong Beng Seng's Hotel Properties Limited holds Hilton Hotel Singapore and Forum The Shopping Mall.
Tang Plaza, which includes the department store and the Singapore Marriott Tang Plaza Hotel, is controlled by the Tang family, and the wealthy Shaw family are behind Shaw House and Shaw Centre. There are also foreign property players such as Australia’s Lendlease.
Orchard Road has always been an important street. It connected the residential area of Tanglin to the business and commercial heart of Singapore at Raffles Place and High Street.
But it did not have the glamour that exists today. There were car showrooms along the road, and opposite Tangs was in fact a sprawling cemetery.
Orchard Road’s transformation started in the 1960s after the government zoned the area for retail.
Some of the first shopping centres to spring up included Far East Shopping Centre, next to the Hilton Hotel, which was known for having the most number of escalators in a retail building.
Orchard Road came into its own in the late 1980s and early 1990s, with the opening of the MRT line and the giant $520 million Ngee Ann City, then Singapore’s largest shopping centre.
In 2005, when there had been no new malls along Orchard Road for about a decade, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) released two more plots of land for sale. These would become Ion Orchard and Orchard Central.
In recent years, it is the part of Orchard Road near Somerset MRT station that has seen more changes. Apart from Orchard Central and 313@somerset, there has also been orchardgateway, the redevelopment of Specialists’ Shopping Centre and Orchard Emerald completed last year - and the first linkbridge across Orchard Road.
Slowing tourist arrivals to Singapore, the lure of suburban malls and an overall growth in online shopping have inevitably taken some of the shine off this premier shopping location.
Costs have run up in Singapore to the point that it is no longer competitive, and the ease of cheap flights tempting locals to shop overseas has not helped either, said Knight Frank Singapore executive chairman Tan Tiong Cheng.
Most international brands still choose Singapore and Orchard Road as their first point of call, when they open in Southeast Asia.
Occupancy rates in Orchard and Scotts Road have also remained strong, at around 90 per cent over the past 10 years, and tend to be higher than that of other city areas, noted Mr Lee Nai Jia, DTZ head of research.
Orchard Road continues to re-invent itself. It is not only a shopping destination, it is the place where events are held.
Mr Mark Shaw, executive vice-president of The Shaw Organisation and chairman of the Orchard Road Business Association (ORBA) talks of ORBA’s Pedestrian Nights; Fashion Steps Out, an annual fashion runway shop; Rev-Up, held in conjunction with the Singapore Grand Prix; and the annual year end light up Christmas on a Greet Street.
“It’s a day out. Even if you live next to Jurong Gateway, or Nex in Serangoon, the pedestrian street experience differentiates Orchard Road. You can walk the entire length and pop into any shop you choose; it’s not just a single mall in the suburbs,” says Mr Mark Shaw.
Orchard Road is also abundant with redevelopment potential.
Along the stretch, the malls not quite pulling in the crowds tend to be the smaller buildings, or some of the strata-titled ones, said Mr Danny Yeo, Knight Frank Singapore group managing director. These plots could be combined, for the malls to be in a better position to compete and provide better variety, he said.
Mr Kwek Leng Beng, Hong Leong Group executive chairman, reckons as well there is potential in the upper Orchard area, or the relatively quieter stretch from Tanglin Shopping Centre to Tanglin Mall.
" Among the buildings are Far East Shopping Centre and Orchard Parade Hotel belonging to the Far East Group. Hotel Properties Limited owns Hilton Hotel and Forum The Shopping Mall and Hard Rock Cafe. These sit on large land parcels, valuable real estate that has the potential of seeing rising capital values. This upper Orchard area has long term strategic value and a great future for capital values. And don't forget tree-lined Orchard Boulevard which also holds great potential," he said.
SOURCES: KNIGHT FRANK RESEARCH, VARIOUS COMPANIES AND NEWSPAPER ARCHIVES
PRODUCED BY CHNG CHOON HIONG, BRYANDT LYN, TIEN CHUNG PING, YIME BENITES, DERRICK HO, TAY HWEE PENG AND RODOLFO PAZOS