From Heritage To Renaissance

Almost a year ago IE carried a report on the developments in Ipoh entitled ‘Shining Through: Ipoh’s Heritage Spirit. (IE141/ April 16 2012) in which we described the few developments which were beginning to change and influence the mood about Ipoh town, specifically the  Old and New Town area. Back then we covered Old Town locations such as Sekeping Kong Heng and Lim Ko Pi whose owner, Lim Chai Hock was then repainting seven units of balconied shop-lots at Jalan Sultan Iskandar (Hugh Low Street), the colours of the rainbow. However as we review the amount of new building developments that took place in 2012 a picture is emerging of a rebirth of lifestyle, art and culture in Ipoh, better described as a renaissance.

“Renaissance”: a renewal of life, vigour, interest, rebirth, revival – Dictionary.com

How did it start?

In the year 2000 the government repealed the Rent Control Act whereby building owners had to rent their premises at a fixed rate. With the removal of the Act the building owners could now rent and sell their premises at market rate.

According to Encik Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Tahir, MBI’s Town Planning Officer, buyers subsequently bought into these old shop lots and after some time some buyers began to demolish their properties to realise better returns from their purchases.

Only when old buildings were being pulled down, did it raise the interest of heritage aficionados and the man in the street, concerned that a part of Ipoh’s heritage and image was disappearing, would alert Ipoh Echo each time a building was being torn down.

This subsequently prompted Ipoh City Council to issue a requirement that shop-lot owners could demolish their units but had to maintain the original facade. The result of this directive is that more and more facades are being upgraded with minimal or massive reconstruction behind, to accommodate modern facilities.

UNESCO’s Heritage Listing

Another factor that Tajuddin mentioned that had contributed to the interest was UNESCO’s Heritage listing for Penang and Malacca specifically with property prices soaring three to five times higher than before instead of declining as originally anticipated, especially the “per unit appreciation values contributed to owners rebuilding their lots.”

Year of Dragon: New Buzz, New Openings and New Events in Ipoh

Before 2012 it was common knowledge that Ipoh was frequently busy during weekends and public holidays. With the introduction of the electric train service and printing of the Heritage Trail Maps 1 & 2 it gave day trippers and weekenders something to do in between exploring the sumptuous Ipoh food outlets. 2012 was the year of the Dragon and it was also the year that a fair number of new businesses set up shop.

Hotels, Hotels, and more Hotels

Tune Hotel opened its doors to Ipoh as did local hotelier Seemsoon Hotel, Ipoh Downtown Hotel and not forgetting the heritage hotel Sekeping Kong Heng. Kinta Riverfront Hotel opened with great fanfare while two existing Ipoh Hotels, D Eastern (formerly Eastern Hotel) and French Hotel which opened at the end of 2011 under new management, saw healthy occupancy rates averaging 60% throughout the year. Both hotels declared that their customers consisted of corporate clients and families from local companies, Singaporeans and Europeans and stayed on average three days.

French Hotel Manager, Kenn Chah said that his Hotel has 48 rooms with comfortable and niche decor, is non-smoking and whose customers come for the Ipoh food and cave tours.

However, it was the Riverfront Hotel and Suites that contributed synergy to the tourism market

With its 410 rooms and service apartments all in one location it attracted “large never been done before events” to town, examples of which were the 1800 strong participants of the Kelab Roadrunner Ipoh ((KRI) Cycling Team’s “annual Century Ride event” or even My Dancesport’s International Dance Competition which held its first ever international event in Ipoh. With the largest pillarless ballroom in Ipoh, Kinta Riverfront attracted many world class events such as the first ever full length opera La Traviata.

Night Scene

For the night scene the dance club, S.O.S. opened its doors at the former Grand theatre located on Jalan Sultan Idris Shah while House Music Club opened at the former Borneo Motors, both located on Jalan Sultan Idris Shah, barely a kilometre apart.

As for pubs, what began as one tastefully designed Irish Pub (in Ipoh!) called St Patrick’s along Jalan Raja Ekram (Cowan Street) has now spread to three pubs and a music club at the parallel Jalan Lau Ek Ching millionaire’s row of heritage town houses all tastefully renovated with quaint themed interiors.

Blending Art with Heritage

Sekeping Kong Heng opened their Old Town Art Gallery last September and recently organised an art demonstration that attracted a lot of young people which was a refreshing change.

However, for more modern and quirky art and which includes wall art, head over to Burps and Giggles Café located at three lots along Jalan Sultan Yussuf immediately behind Sekeping Kong Heng. Besides its interesting menu of burgers and pastries its artistic decor is eclectic and pervades throughout every nook, corner and wall of this old but resurrected shop lot. It’s even possible you might see some of your old furniture decorating the tables and walls (see page 5 Food Musings this issue).

Council Study

Ipoh City Hall, aware of the changes happening in town, will do a study this year. The study, called RKK Pekan Ipoh or Ipoh Town Special Area Programme has been allocated RM890k for the study covering Old and New Town, an area of approximately 3 sq km.

Town Planner Tajuddin said the plan, announced at a recent Council full board meeting, was to preserve the image of Ipoh with guidelines to focus on the details of heritage buildings and urban design covering drainage, materials used and will work towards identifying Ipoh as a Tin Heritage City.

What’s Next

For Dr ‘Mike’ Gurmail Singh, who has invested in several units at Panglima Lane or commonly known as Concubine Lane, he plans to open one of his units at the entrance as a cafe sometime in April and will call it “Concubine Lane”. His other units currently undergoing renovations will become an antique shop and a home-stay though the dates have yet to be confirmed.

Concubine Lane where several of its buildings had collapsed a year ago was provided an allocation of RM200k by the state government to do a study to ensure the structures were safe. To date “RM108k has been used to settle the engineering fees while the balance will be used for the upgrade of the drains, street and back lane” said Mike, adding that “the building owners were glad for the assistance from the government”.

Lim Chai Hock, the owner of Lim Ko Pi updated Ipoh Echo that his hotel, which was the former OCBC Bank, will be ready by June this year. Bubbling with enthusiasm as he explained his plans, Lim repeated that Ipoh had so much of its grand history to share and said that OCBC Bank was originally the Bank of Malaya which was co-founded by Towkay Leong Sin Nam in 1920. “My guests who live here will not only relive the era gone by they will experience the past,” added Lim.

Tourism Master Plan Needed

Chan Kok Keong, the co-owner of Sekeping Kong Heng, also acknowledged that “Ipoh has it all but we need more tourists. Government and City Hall should work together to aggressively promote the town”.

Tourism is all about living the experience of Ipoh’s glorious past and Old Town can provide that experience. “To achieve and enhance it, the authorities must work together to enforce a neat, tidy and clean environment,” added Chan whose proposal was echoed by other industry players as well.

Chan, the motivator for the art gallery, was of the opinion that a tourism master plan for Ipoh will be a good long-term strategy for success. With so much enthusiasm and optimism is it possible not to move forward. Ipoh Echo will do a review a year from now to find out.

James Gough

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