Homes may be added to Marina Square after SingLand applies to rezone site

A portion of Marina Square’s southern plot next to Raffles Link will be rezoned for residential use. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

18 September 2023

SINGAPORE – Homes could be added to Marina Square in the coming years, potentially offering future residents views of downtown Singapore and the city skyline.

Singapore Land Group (SingLand), which controls the majority of the mixed-used development with its parent company, UOL Group, told The Straits Times last Tuesday that it had submitted an application to the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) for the Marina Square site to be rezoned.

The application was reflected in a proposed amendment to URA’s masterplan published on Aug 1.

It involved rezoning a portion of Marina Square from “hotel” to “residential with commercial at first storey” and removing the gross plot ratio of two plots along Raffles Boulevard occupied by the mixed-use complex. The gross plot ratio refers to the amount of development permitted for a site.

The proposed rezoning indicates that SingLand has received in-principle approval from the authorities to build residential units on its property.

Based on the proposed amendment, a portion of Marina Square’s southern plot next to Raffles Link will be rezoned for residential use, with commercial functions on the first storey. This roughly 3,700 sq m site is about half the size of a football field.

A part of the swimming pool at Parkroyal Collection Marina Bay hotel and a portion of the shopping mall sit within the area earmarked for the proposed rezoning, checks by ST showed.

On the expected impact of its plans, such as if mall tenants would be affected, a spokesperson for SingLand would say only that details would be given when there are “material developments on this matter”.

Meanwhile, the proposed removal of the gross plot ratio suggests that SingLand plans to intensify developments on its land, which is on a 99-year lease that began on Sept 9, 1980.

Built and opened in the 1980s, Marina Square’s plots have a current gross plot ratio of 3.4. Both plots are zoned for hotel use, and may also be approved for commercial or residential uses as long as these do not exceed 40 per cent of the complex’s floor area.

The plots occupy a combined 92,197.3 sq m, the equivalent of about 13 football fields.

After a series of acquisitions in 2019, UOL and the United Industrial Corporation – now SingLand – control the complex’s five-storey mall, as well as the Parkroyal Collection Marina Bay and Pan Pacific Singapore hotels.

With UOL’s control over the Marina Square properties, its group chief executive Liam Wee Sin said in 2019 it would “explore asset enhancement opportunities”.

SingLand has a 50 per cent share of the complex’s third hotel, Mandarin Oriental, Singapore. The other half is held by Hong Kong-based hospitality firm Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group.

The late American architect John Portman designed all three hotels, which have 1,900 rooms in total.

With a gross floor area of 315,046.13 sq m, the complex has reached development limits set by the authorities, which explains SingLand’s application to remove the gross plot ratio of the two sites.

In instances where URA’s masterplan does not specify the gross plot ratio for hotel sites, its website states that the authorities will determine the allowable plot ratio by taking into account “the location, site context, traffic and impact of the hotel development on the surroundings”.

Marina Square’s southern plot, where the mall stands, has a height limit of 32 storeys, while the northern plot that houses Pan Pacific Singapore has a 45-storey cap.

The mall had a committed occupancy of 98 per cent as at Dec 31, 2022, based on SingLand’s 2022 annual report.

Property analysts said they were surprised by the proposed move to intensify development at Marina Square.

Ms Tricia Song, head of research for South-east Asia at real estate firm CBRE, said there are already several nearby housing projects in the pipeline, such as on recently sold plots at Marina View and Marina Gardens Lane.

Developer demand for these plots was lacklustre, she noted.

The section of Marina Square along Raffles Link that is likely to be impacted by proposed development plans. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Mr Alan Cheong, executive director of research and consultancy at real estate agency Savills Singapore, said Marina Square’s mall component runs in a vastly different context now, compared with when it opened in the 1980s. Today, other malls in the area and in Orchard Road have stiffened competition for shoppers.

“Ultimately, the fight against the new retail topography would reach a point where the cost to keep it going, versus a change of use, is greater,” he said, referring to the possibility of homes being added to Marina Square, which could decrease its retail space.

If homes are to be built in the area proposed for rezoning, Mr Cheong said the number of units could range from 110 to 120. This is based on the assumption of a plot ratio of 3.4, taking into account commercial space on the first floor and an average housing unit of 85 sq m.

Ms Song noted that Marina Square is within areas under URA’s Strategic Development Incentive Scheme, which UOL’s Mr Liam had said the group would consider tapping for the property.

Announced in 2019, the scheme allows building developers to build beyond their existing limits, should their redevelopment proposals “positively transform the surrounding urban environment”.

With the authorities keen to add round-the-clock vibrancy to the city centre, redevelopment involving the addition of residential or hospitality spaces has been favoured in recent years, said Ms Song.

Both analysts noted that homes in the area are rare, with only about 230 units near Marina Square – 190 at South Beach Residences and 39 at Eden Residences Capitol. They added that SingLand would likely apply for a lease top-up before selling any potential homes planned.

It is difficult to tell if SingLand’s move could spur similar plans at nearby developments, such as Suntec City, which do not have residential components.

Mr Cheong said luxury non-landed homes in the area are likely to attract mostly foreigners, who may be put off by the additional stamp duties of 60 per cent.

Unless that is reduced substantially or removed, developers will be cautious about converting their properties for residential use, he said.