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Recession-hit Singapore pours billions into banking district

Singapore is pouring billions of dollars into a new financial district in a bid to create an Asian version of Wall Street with a dash of Las Vegas thrown in -- despite its worst ever recession.

business Updated: May 15, 2009 07:23 IST

Singapore is pouring billions of dollars into a new financial district in a bid to create an Asian version of Wall Street with a dash of Las Vegas thrown in -- despite its worst ever recession.

The Marina Bay complex, situated on reclaimed land, exemplifies the city-state's ambitions to expand its financial sector and attract more tourists and investors.

The government and private firms have invested over 22 billion Singapore dollars (14.7 billion US) into the 360-hectare (889-acre) site, equivalent to about 400 football pitches, and officials say more money is coming in.

Marina Bay is the country's most ambitious urban transformation project, a dream that began in 1969 when groundwork started on the expansion of the old financial district in the British colonial quarter.

"We are beginning to see the fruits of the labour put in years ago," Mah Bow Tan, the minister for national development, told reporters recently after a tour of the site.

Among the key developments is the country's first casino complex bankrolled by US gaming tycoon Sheldon Adelson's Las Vegas Sands at a cost of over 7.3 billion dollars.

The Marina Bay Sands casino resort, scheduled to open at the end of the year, will feature 2,600 hotel rooms, shopping malls and convention and exhibition space.

The new district has also attracted Hong Kong's richest man, Li Ka-shing, whose Cheung Kong Holdings property outfit is one of three partners behind a commercial development called the Marina Bay Financial Centre (MBFC).

When fully completed in 2012, the MBFC will offer what it calls "prime Grade A" office space in three blocks with waterfront views plus 649 luxury apartments designed with a "work-live-play" theme.

By the middle of next year, a pedestrian route linking all the major attractions surrounding Marina Bay will be completed.
A few of the projects in the bay area are already up, including The Sail at Marina Bay, a 70-storey, twin-tower condo.

For leisure and entertainment, the Singapore Flyer, said to be the world's largest observation wheel, offers a panoramic view of the downtown area, while the Esplanade performing arts centre hosts global, Asian and local acts.

Those who want something closer to nature can head to Gardens by the Bay, three interconnected parks spread over 101 hectares (250 acres) that will open in phases in late 2011.

"Based on the plans they have put out, it is pretty exciting for Singapore," said Chua Yang Liang, head of regional research with property consultancy Jones Lang LaSalle.

The casino resort "brings more excitement and a balance to the work environment", he said.

The Singapore government has put in about 5.7 billion dollars' worth of infrastructure and expects to inject more than one billion dollars for similar works such as roads and bridges over the next 10-15 years.

There is no reason for Singapore to hold back on its plans for Marina Bay, said Mah.

"So while we need to be mindful of the current economic downturn and find ways and means to cope with it, we must also not forget that we have to prepare ourselves for when the economy recovers," he said.

"That's where I think Singapore can be well positioned and investors, when they look at this, when they look at what we are doing ... they know this is a place that is ready for them whenever the upturn comes."

Singapore has been in a recession since the third quarter of last year with the economy forecast to shrink by 5.0 to 9.0 percent in 2009, its worst downturn since gaining statehood in 1965, but boasts massive financial reserves.