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HEAD down to Robertson Quay on any weekend, and the place is buzzing with families, couples and groups of friends out at the many restaurants chilling and having a good time.
Come October next year, the area will become even livelier, when The Robertson Quay Project is completed. Developed by RB Capital, the Robertson Quay Project comprises the retail podium of The Quayside, and the former Gallery Hotel. The company, headed by CEO Kishin RK, had acquired the properties in 2012 and 2013 respectively.
Mr Kishin has big plans for this part of Robertson Quay. He envisions it to be "similar to West Village in New York". He adds: "It will be the place for singles, young couples and couples with babies," he says. "The crowd here is a discerning one, and with spending power."
The Robertson Quay Project will have a large catchment area, not too far from Orchard Road and the CBD area, with plenty of hotels and condominiums around.
Despite having acquired both properties for over a year, revamp works have only begun recently. There is a reason for that. Rather than jump in with a wrecking ball immediately, Mr Kishin says "we spent the last 18 to 24 months studying the area".
The former Gallery Hotel ran for a year under its new owner before it closed last November. It will reopen as the InterContinental Singapore Robertson Quay next year, meeting what Mr Kishin says "is a demand that focuses on discreet luxury".
Big plans aside, Mr Kishin also has clear ideas on how the area should look. Over the course of last year, his team began trawling images from the Internet on how the Robertson Quay Project should be. The detailing went down to even creating a Pinterest account, where images of hip, industrial-looking cafes and restaurants, were pinned, so that these mood boards could be given to tenants as inspiration.
Award-winning architecture firm SCDA is in charge of the revamp - from its master planning, to the interiors of the hotel rooms, and even the landscaping.
Apart from the 227-room hotel, there will be nearly 100,000 sq ft of combined food and beverage-led retail space between the two assets.
"SCDA'S DNA responds well with the vision of the Robertson Quay Project, as the industrial chic approach resonates well with the surrounding landscape and target audience," says Mr Kishin, on his choice of architect.
SCDA's principal architect Chan Soo Khian says, "The architectural design is a series of glass and screened interlocking geometric forms brought to an intimate pedestrian scale by a perimeter canopy. The feel of the ground floor outlets and lobby projects a modern industrial vibe in response to the warehouse references by the river".
He adds: "The new Robertson Quay is designed to re-focus on the food and beverage outlets towards the river, with the river promenade re-imagined with lush resort landscape features."
The design of the hotel will also play up its waterfront location, with its reception area on the fourth floor, where there is direct access to a terrace with extensive landscape and river views.
Mark Winterton, currently the area general manager for Holiday Inn Express Singapore and Malaysia will be the InterContinental hotel's general manager when it opens.
Asked how different the Robertson Quay hotel will be from the one at Bugis, Mr Winterton says, "The two properties would not cannibalise each other despite their proximity. The new InterContinental Singapore Robertson Quay represents a more contemporary side of the city, while InterContinental Singapore, as the only Peranakan-inspired luxury hotel pays homage to the local heritage. Each hotel will have its own unique appeal."
He foresees affluent, experienced travellers who would be mixing business with pleasure, having a short break, on a romantic getaway or spending some quality family time to stay at the Robertson Quay hotel.
For the non-tourist, the Robertson Quay Project offers plenty of food and retail options. Some 63,000 sq ft of F&B-led retail space will be spread over three floors on the podium block of the hotel which faces Saiboo Street, and another 32,000 sq ft facing the waterfront. The list of tenants will be tightly curated. "We don't want two or three of the same options," he says.
Some of the types of tenants that he has in mind include a bakery, a meat and cheese shop, a coffee place, a brunch-focused eatery, as well as a range of Japanese restaurants.
"I want to build up a community of artisanal offerings," he says. He reveals that he has had interest from companies with a large chain of outlets wanting to set up shop here, but unfortunately, he has had to turn them down.
Currently, restaurants that have opened under the Robertson Quay Project include Thai restaurant Soi 60, Super Loco Mexican joint, and Japanese restaurant Wagokoro by Hide Yamamoto.
When completed, this part of Robertson Quay will definitely look trendy and posh. But Mr Kishin says the area will not lose its casual vibe, as well as it being a family-friendly place. The immediate target audience will be the residents of Robertson Quay.
"Restaurants, while chic, will be very approachable, encouraging customers to savour their time and enjoy the riverfront. That said, the new Robertson Quay will eventually reach out to the broader Singapore audience and appeal to visitors, who want to spend their time dining in a uniquely quaint yet stylish precinct along Singapore's historic riverfront," says Mr Kishin.