In Little India, Hindu temples sit right next to modern condominiums.
Gazetted as a conservation area in 1989, Little India retains much of its old-world charm, with many shophouses and religious monuments still standing today. However, there are plans to make the area more vibrant and liveable, with new residential and commercial developments taking shape.
By Romesh Navaratnarajah
31-year-old Jagwinder Singh has seen first-hand the evolution of his home and workplace of Little India.
He has spent the last 15 years living in the area and helps to run Jaggi’s, a family-owned restaurant temporarily located at Chander Road, which is known for its North Indian cuisine.
Singh told PropertyGuru that he likes the vibrancy of the neighbourhood, which was designated as a conservation area in 1989.
Today, it is home to religious monuments, saree shops, popular eateries and backpacker hostels.
He describes the experience as “living in the heartlands, but also within the city at the same time. You can see shophouses, commercial buildings, restaurants and HDB flats within the vicinity,” he said.
Ong Teck Hui, National Director of JLL Research, believes the key advantage of Little India as a submarket is its proximity to the city centre.
“It is just one or two MRT stops away to Dhoby Ghaut interchange from either the Little India or Farrer Park stations.
“That makes it easy to get to Orchard Road or the Raffles Place / Marina Bay financial district,” he said.
Ong noted that its rich history and cultural importance as an enclave of Singapore’s Indian community has also helped Little India to grow into a busy commercial hub and tourist attraction.
Having a riot
Still, the area has its fair share of social problems. “On weekends, you see a very different scene,” said Singh, referring to the thousands of South Asian workers who gather in Little India to socialise and relax.
While their presence is generally accepted by residents, there are reports of some foreign workers getting into drunken brawls and engaging in other anti-social behaviour, such as littering, spitting and public urination.
Some years ago, Little India received international attention, but for all the wrong reasons, after Singapore’s first riot in 40 years was sparked following a fatal accident involving a foreign worker.
A total of 27 suspects were later arrested while 18 people were injured.
Such incidents have unfortunately tarnished Little India’s reputation to some degree, but Singh pointed out that the situation has improved greatly, with increased police patrols and hefty fines imposed.
For instance, there is a $300 composition fine for first-time offenders caught spitting in public.
Nonetheless, the area’s city fringe location and proximity to amenities such as MRT stations, shops and eateries is spurring the construction of new residential developments, including the 305-unit Sturdee Residences.
The condominium located at Sturdee Road was launched in end-April by developer Sustained Land.
To date, 185 units (60 percent) have been sold, beating market expectations. The 99-year leasehold project comprises one- to five-bedroom units across two 30-storey towers, with sizes ranging from 420 sq ft to 1,830 sq ft.
According to JLL’s Ong, the project has an average price of $1,604 psf, with the average unit size of 620 sq ft within the popular size range for many investors.
Sturdee Residences is expected to be completed in 2020, and the project’s location is without a doubt its main selling point.
Responding to media queries, a spokesperson for Sturdee Residences said that the surrounding area is rapidly transforming, and will be a natural extension of the Ophir-Rochor growth area.
To be developed over the next 10 to 15 years, the Ophir-Rochor area will comprise new integrated mixed-use developments featuring offices, hotels and residences, set within a garden-like environment, revealed the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s (URA) Master Plan.
“While the highly-anticipated Ophir-Rochor corridor is underway, a Soho-like movement is also taking flight in some parts of the neighbourhood, particularly in Rangoon Road and the Jalan Besar area,” said the spokesperson.
“With the arrival of the Downtown Line’s Bendemeer MRT station and the completion of the Ophir-Rochor corridor, among other exciting developments, we expect this area to be an even more coveted address than ever.”
Hotly contested site
Separately, the URA plans to launch the public tender for a residential site at Perumal Road in Farrer Park in November, under the second half 2016 Government Land Sales (GLS) Programme.
Property agency OrangeTee expects the Perumal Road site to do well due to its relatively small size of 0.39ha, central location, and proximity to Farrer Park MRT station. It could yield around 200 units.
“The total number of bids are expected to come in at around 10 to 20 bids, with the winning bid ranging from $830 to $890 psf per plot ratio,” said OrangeTee.
Expats moving in
Little India’s rental market is seeing brisk transactions as well.
For example, City Square Residences in Kitchener Link has proven to be popular among tenants, with the two-bedroom or smaller units forming a significant proportion of units leased, said Ong.
He noted that in the second quarter of 2016, the average rent for one-bedroom units was between $2,700 and $2,800 per month, while two-bedroom units averaged around $3,400 to $3,500 per month. Three-bedroom units commanded an average of $4,200 to $4,300 per month.
Said Ong: “This shows that while Little India is close to the city and provides abundant amenities, rents there are reasonably affordable, especially to budget conscious tenants.
“Hence, Little India has become popular among tenants and investors.”
New shops, healthcare facilities
Meanwhile, the upcoming supply of residential units is also pushing demand for new commercial spaces.
For many years, the 24-hour shopping mall Mustafa Centre thrived without much competition, before City Square Mall, Singapore’s first eco-mall, opened in 2009.
In March this year, Farrer Park Hospital officially opened its doors to serve patients.
The 220-bed facility hospital is part of a fully-integrated healthcare-hospitality complex named Connexion, built directly above Farrer Park MRT station for more than $800 million.
A check of listings on CommercialGuru shows that rents for the medical suites at Connexion range between $7 psf and $8 psf per month.
“New developments such as Connexion at Farrer Park, an integrated hospital, medical centre and hotel complex, make the district even more vibrant,” said Ong.