Once described as the pride of every Penangite, Kompleks Tun Abdul Razak (Komtar) is now the sharpest thorn in their hearts. But the building may regain its lustre with a fresh boost from the State Government.
At 65 storeys high, Komtar Tower is the tallest building on the island, and serves as a famous landmark. It was once a major shopping centre and the sixth tallest building in the country.
The tower, together with the four-storey podium, was built in 1974 and completed in 1986 at a cost of RM207mil. The podium used to house anchor tenants like Super Komtar, Yaohan that became Aktif Lifestyle, and later Parkson Aktif, making the place the state's most exciting shopping centre in the 80s and 90s.
Today, however, it is a completely different story, with visitors to the podium area finding the place to be creepy, dark and even unsafe.
Almost 40% of the traders there have left especially after the anchor tenants “closed shop”. More are planning to leave if the State fails to revive the place.
It is learnt that the value of the shop lots on the first and second floors have dropped by at least 40% and about 10% to 20% for the ground and third floors.
The drop in value was attributed to poor maintenance, lack of facilities and the mushrooming of new shopping complexes such as Prangin Mall and Gurney Plaza.
The Penang Times Square project nearby at Jalan Datuk Keramat is also expected to pose a threat to the already “ailing” Komtar once it is completed and operational.
The Square is an iconic RM1bil integrated development and is a self-contained urban village covering 5.2ha.
However, things might change for the better as the State Government, through its development arm Penang Development Corporation (PDC), has pumped in RM10mil for the clean-up job at Komtar.
PDC had explained that Komtar needed the facelift to compete with the newer shopping complexes to remain competitive.
Datuk Seri Lim Chong Keat, one of the original architects of Komtar, believes that it is still not too late to turn the complex around.
“What Komtar requires now is to be constantly improved and refurbished with good management to promote it as an urban centre,” he said in an interview.
Lim was hugely involved in the “birth” of Komtar and was one of the consultant architects and planners from Architects Team 3 (Jurubena Bertiga International), which had been appointed to work with officers from the then City Council of George Town and the State Government on the proposal for an urban centre on the island.
The proposal made in 1962 was to develop the area around Prangin Road/ Maxwell Road/ Magazine Road into a hawkers' complex and civic centre.
However, the idea did not get off the ground immediately and was reviewed in 1969.
Lim said a new team called the Central Area Planning Unit (CAPU) was formed, and it was in 1973 that the State Government entrusted the Penang Development Corporation (PDC) to implement the multi-million Ringgit project.
Extensive planning studies were conducted in 1971 and the decision to proceed with the Urban Centre was made with the objective, of among others, to revitalise the commercial trading sector and optimise use of land in the city centre.
Thus was Komtar born, and named after the second Prime Minister, the late Tun Abdul Razak Hussein.
The project was supposed to be progressively built in five different phases, with Phase One comprising the tower block and podium.
The complex incorporated a wide variety of services and modern facilities for shops, offices, and civic and recreational activities.
An observatory on Level 58 was included in the plan as well as a multi-purpose centre known as Geodesic Dome, a post office, a cinema with 1,001 seating capacity and even a landscaped roof garden.
Tun Abdul Razak himself launched the start of piling work on Phase One of the project on Jan 1, 1974 and part of the complex's podium block was completed in 1978.
When the skyscraper topped out, it was then the tallest building in Asia.
Today, more than 30 years later, only two and a half phases have been completed.
And the question that remains unanswered until now is, whatever happened to the rest of the project?
The Consumer Protection Association of Penang president K. Koris said the uncompleted pockets of proposed development under the Komtar master plan have created “an urban slum” in the inner city of George Town.
“The pockets of proposed development under the remaining phases have been left idle and have become an eyesore,” he said.
Former Chief Minister Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu's Komtar masterplan was meant to prevent the inner city from becoming an urban slum, he said.
“But this is what the whole area has become today,” he said, adding that it would be useless for the state to inject RM10mil to transform Komtar into an attractive shopping mall if the surrounding areas were left neglected.
To date, only Phases 1, 2A and 4 of the masterplan, comprising the tower, the Geodesic Dome, four-storey podium, a hotel, bus interchange and the Prangin Mall, have been completed.
Plots of land under Phases 2B and 3 were sold off to Metrojaya Bhd and Postmix Sdn Bhd respectively and Phase 5 was revised in 2002, with the new plan featuring a centralised transportation hub.
A PDC spokesman said that plans for the transportation hub were put on hold as the state has yet to finalise the routes for the proposed LRT project.
“We cannot finalise the plans for Phase 5 now because it is dependent on the LRT routes that the state has yet to finalise it,” the spokesman said.
The spokesman also said PDC was in the process of resettling 41 families who are currently living in some of the pre-war houses sitting on the area marked for Phase 5 development.
“We have offered accommodation to these families but some of them refused the offer. We are looking into solving such issues.
“We also have plans to clear the land and turn it into a temporary parking space,” he said.
As for the vacant pre-war houses, which are an eyesore and have become a haven for drug addicts, the spokesman said some of the buildings have already been torn down.
On Komtar's revival, the spokesman said several departmental stores have expressed interest in the space previously occupied by anchor tenant Super Komtar.
“A college was also interested in turning the space into a hostel for its students. However, nothing positive was achieved from those discussions,” he said.
A check by The Star on the plot of land marked for development under Phase 3 saw some piling works being carried out on the area which has been boarded up.
An 11-storey shopping complex would be coming up on the plot, and it is expected to be completed between 2009 and 2010.
A signboard put up on the land indicated that the developer is Lion Parade Mutiara Sdn Bhd, formerly known as Postmix Sdn Bhd.
With the new complex, those involved in the Komtar project can cling on to the hope that the complex, once the pride of Penang, can regain its image and inject progress to the “ailing” inner city of George Town. - By The Star