Street Smarts

Singapore Tatler - - UPFRONT CLOSE-UP -

With his new ven­ture Ann Siang House, prop­erty devel­oper Ashish Manch­haram tells Hong Xinyi how he hopes to spark an­other neigh­bour­hood re­nais­sance

shish manch­haram’s recipe for cre­at­ing buzz is de­cep­tively sim­ple: take a beau­ti­ful her­itage build­ing in a cen­tral lo­ca­tion, and add mod­ern con­ve­niences and novel ten­ants that draw the crowds. His four-year-old com­pany, 8M Real Es­tate, brought New York cock­tail bar Em­ploy­ees Only to Amoy Street and re­housed in­die club Kilo Lounge at Tan­jong Pa­gar Road, in­ject­ing th­ese her­itage en­claves with new life. Thanks to his fam­ily back­ground, Ashish also has a unique per­spec­tive on gen­tri­fi­ca­tion—that some­times con­tro­ver­sial phe­nom­e­non where unique ur­ban neigh­bour­hoods lose their orig­i­nal char­ac­ter as new en­trants start to at­tract a more af­flu­ent crowd. His great-grand­fa­ther ar­rived in Sin­ga­pore from Gu­jarat, In­dia, in 1908. For the next few decades, his fam­ily traded tex­tiles through­out Asia from their base here, buy­ing sev­eral shop­houses in the Kam­pong Glam area for their business op­er­a­tions. Born in a shop­house on Bus­so­rah Street, Ashish grew up play­ing cricket in the al­ley­ways of Haji Lane. “The neigh­bour­hood had a very kam­pong feel,” the fa­ther of two rem­i­nisces. “The evenings were qui­eter be­cause there were more res­i­den­tial homes then. But it hasn’t changed a whole lot. It’s just vi­brant in a different way now.” He had a front-row seat for ob­serv­ing this new vi­brancy. In the late 1990s, young fash­ion de­sign­ers keen to launch their own bou­tiques started in­quir­ing about leas­ing Haji Lane shop­houses owned by Ashish’s fam­ily, which were then be­ing used as ware­houses. Once th­ese types of ten­ants moved in, the sleepy street be­gan to draw a whole new crowd. “Within 10 years, that whole stretch had be­come an al­ter­na­tive re­tail spot,” says Ashish. “What I learned from that ex­pe­ri­ence was that we were able to in­flu­ence the char­ac­ter of the area and cre­ate a des­ti­na­tion be­cause we had con­trol over a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of the ten­ant mix.” He has ap­plied the same ap­proach to the 31 con­ser­va­tion shop­house prop­er­ties un­der 8M, which he founded af­ter clock­ing over 12 years at a global real es­tate ser­vices com­pany. We are chat­ting within the premises of his lat­est ven­ture, a four-storey 1920s shop­house that re­launches this month as Ann Siang House. The 20-room prop­erty is not his first foray into the hos­pi­tal­ity sec­tor—8m’s Base Res­i­dences at Hong Kong Street launched in 2017. Nor will it be his last—ren­o­va­tions kick off this year for a row of re­cently ac­quired Keong Saik Road shop­houses. With th­ese de­vel­op­ments, Ashish wants to “blur the lines be­tween a ho­tel and an apart­ment ac­com­mo­da­tion”. In Ann Siang House for in­stance, “you get all the com­forts of a ho­tel set­ting, but it feels more like home”, he ex­plains. “It’s flex­i­ble enough for both short and long stays, and you feel like you’re liv­ing in your own space rather than some­one else’s.” With an in­ter­est in con­ser­va­tion prop­er­ties that is both per­sonal and pro­fes­sional, it is prob­a­bly not sur­pris­ing that Ashish has a more pos­i­tive take on the im­pact of gen­tri­fi­ca­tion. It can bring new en­ergy into a neigh­bour­hood, he be­lieves. “Be­fore we took over five shop­houses on Amoy Street, Beng Hiang restau­rant had been there for 30 years. It was a great es­tab­lish­ment, but at the end of the day, the own­ers recog­nised that this was not the lo­ca­tion for them for the future and felt it was a good time to move out.” The way he sees it, fresh new con­cepts en­ter­ing her­itage ar­eas suc­ceed be­cause they meet ex­ist­ing con­sumer de­mands. “While I un­der­stand the conundrum of gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, if I wasn’t do­ing it, the next per­son will. Hope­fully, we’re do­ing it in a way where we’re still con­serv­ing the her­itage of that area, and help­ing vis­i­tors to dis­cover what the neigh­bour­hood is all about.”

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