By Mariam Mokhtar

In response to Ipoh Echo’s article, “Why can’t Malaysians appreciate their local heritage?” in Issue 254, two companies have contacted the state government to develop the Ipoh Station Hotel, as part of a bigger, visionary project, which they hope will inject new life into this part of the city.

This is what happens when a community paper publishes a story about an unwanted building, which no one appears to want to develop, and which the authorities are reluctant to demolish, because it is an integral part of Ipoh’s heritage.

A spokesman from the Mentri Besar’s office, on condition of anonymity, said that they had received a positive response from overseas corporations, to help develop Ipoh’s century-old structure.

He said, “The Ipoh Echo has done a marvellous job in promoting Perak, and although we disagreed with the author, who claimed that we had not done enough to find a developer for the Station Hotel, the article did generate a lot of interest from different parts of the world.

“One company is from the east, the other from the west. Once again, Ipoh becomes a focal point for east-west international cooperation. We have shortlisted two companies, to draw up a masterplan for the regeneration of this part of Ipoh city. A press conference will be called once we have finalised the details.”

According to construction insiders, the People’s Republic of China’s construction giant, Asia Foreign Overseas Project (ASIA FOP) and the British firm LORDLY Holdings, founded by Lord P. Ranks, will undertake the development of the entire project.

The joint venture consortium, ASIA FOP - LORDLY, will be responsible for the project known as “Bandar Ipoh Multi-Air-Land-Interlinks”, or just Bandar Ipoh-M.

According to civil engineer, Datuk Yu Lai-Er, the unofficial spokesman for this consortium, the developers want to tap into the major Bangkok to KL high speed rail link project, which was successfully negotiated by the Prime minister, Najib Abdul Razak, and PRC companies, during his visit to Beijing.

In Perak, ASIA FOP - LORDLY plans to turn Ipoh into the region’s central transport hub. It will become the terminus for the rail link between Ipoh Sentral and the port at Lumut, and the Kamunting Industrial Corridor.

Other rail links, that will pass through Ipoh, include the upcoming MRT lines between Ipoh and the surrounding suburbs, and the Ipoh Airport network, which will be called the “Express Rail-to-Air Link”.

Ipoh Echo has been shown plans for the proposed links from the city, and sources have said that the consortium has bought a 70 per cent stake in the project, for RM1.47 billion, the remaining 30 per cent stake, was bought by the investment fund, 1MDB.

In the first phase, a third of the land parcel will be overseen by a local developer. The second phase will involve the uplifting and regeneration of the Ipoh Station Hotel. The second phase, is estimated to have a gross development value of RM15 billion, over a 15- to 25-year period.

Datuk Lai-Er said that the Ipoh Station Hotel will be just the tip of the iceberg, because a two  level underground city, which is fashioned after Montreal’s Underground City, will be built below the entire plot of land which surrounds the current Station Hotel.

Down south, a similar underground city called Bandar Malaysia, has also been proposed for the KL terminus of the KL to Singapore high-speed rail link.

In the Ipoh development, there will be shopping malls, commercial outlets, food and beverage shops, a library, a mini-theme park, and residential facilities, based along man-made canals in this underground city.

Datuk, who is an Ipoh boy, told the Ipoh Echo, that people have often complained to him about Ipoh being too wet, or too hot, or too boring. “This time, they will have nothing to complain about. It can rain all it wants, but in the underground city, we will not be drenched. It can be very hot, above land, but again, in the underground city, we will not suffer heatstroke.

“We can continue to shop or be entertained, by the many facilities on offer. This is the beauty of Project Ipoh-M.

“The pièce de résistance of the former Station Hotel, will be a state-of-the-art space centre, to educate, inspire and evoke curiosity about the wonders of the Universe, the planets and outer space. The nation’s largest planetarium will be under the dome of the Station Hotel. We will also install a large telescope, to watch the stars at night.

“Didn’t we once have visions of making Ipoh a space centre? The most important thing is that the ASIA FOP - LORDLY consortium will give a new lease of life to the Ipoh Station Hotel.”