Rivers have long been known as the ‘lifeline’ of human civilisation. Since the beginning of time, rivers have been one of many important natural resources crucial for the development and livelihood of mankind.
Rivers have also birthed great cities across the world. Malaysia in fact sees a number of its major cities situated along rivers, of particular mention is its capital city Kuala Lumpur.
From a source of life, trade, and transportation, to a link to another region of the state or country, rivers offer an abundance of benefits while its banks play hosts to its various users and traders.
However, as civilisation revolutionalises and faster modes of transport become easily accessible and affordable, rivers and water routes play a less significant role in the development of an urban area.
In addition, as urbanisation expands further up land, its people have also found ways to reap benefits that rivers have to offer.
Over the years, the main functions of rivers have shifted or expanded from being just a trade, transportation and economic hub to a site for cultural and recreational events.
Similarly, its waterfronts have revolutionalised from being mainly a place for trade to place for cultural and recreational activities.
Waterfronts in some major cities have also been revamped to boost the image of the city and subsequently; its tourism industry.
Most urban areas and cities have also retained most of their waterfronts’ historical sites and relics, in honour of its the city or urban areas’ birthplace.
In Sarawak, the waterfront plays an important historical role in the state’s overall development.
In fact, an agreement/event, which set in motion Sarawak’s inception, was held at the waterfront, while Kuching’s old market bazaars are located along the riverbanks.
This shows that the waterfront has played a major role in Sarawak’s early economic days.
Sarawak’s government has initiated various efforts to enhance waterfronts of urban areas in the state to not only boost its tourism industry, but retain its historical value.
The developments of the waterfronts in Sarawak have also opened up various opportunities for businesses and companies to thrive on the new and extended areas that are primed for their tourists attraction.
“Waterfront regeneration has long been seen as an urban panacea, a cure for cities in search of improved self-image or ways of dealing with competition for development or tourism.
“To open up the waterfront has always been an international phenomenon of urban development,” says Albert Hu, a director at Unique Harvests Sdn Bhd.
BizHive Weekly explores this initiative to revive Sarawak’s old economic source, and observes the developments that are currently in progress along Sarawak’s urban areas’ waterfronts.
A breath of fresh air to Kuching’s riverfronts
In Kuching, a large-scale revitalisation is currently taking shape on both sides of its waterfront along the Sarawak river.
Kuching’s history-laden and tourist attractive waterfronts are going through changes that will further enhance the image of the city while retaining its history.
One major project still in the making is Kuching’s Waterfront Extension initiatives brought on by Sarawak Economic Development Corporation (SEDC) and Ibraco Pelita Sdn Bhd, a joint venture between Ibraco Bhd and Pelita Holdings Sdn Bhd (Pelita), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Land Custody and Development Authority (LCDA)
The projects will see the extension, reclamation works and enhancements of facilities along the city centre’s waterfront.
According to SEDC, the final stretch of its Kuching Waterfront extension initiative has taken shape while reclamation works behind Menara SEDC is proceeding smoothly.
“The extension – comprising an elevated walkway of 234 metres from Riverbank Suites and reclamation works stretching 73 metres – will add another 307 metres to the Kuching Waterfront,” it said.
It added that as the waterfront is known as the people’s place and a must-visit tourism spot, SEDC believed that the extension would benefit locals and tourists who would be able to enjoy the sights of Kuching city on both sides of the Sarawak River – from Brooke Dockyard to Menara SEDC.
The elevated walkway, SEDC said, was completed in August 2011 and was followed by the replacement of all pontoons at the existing waterfront and the installation of three new pontoons at the new stretch.
Meanwhile, the Waterfront Extension project by Ibraco Pelita is expected to transform the Sarawak riverbank into a multi-purpose waterfront esplanade.
Pelita’s general manager Datu Dr Sulaiman Hussaini was quoted as saying that the new development will to provide an ideal venue for outdoor activities that will enhance the natural beauty of Sarawak River.
Meanwhile, according to Ibraco, the new Kuching Waterfront Extension Project is slated to be a five year project.
It added that this will involve a ground-breaking transformation of the city’s golden triangle into a vibrant leisure and entertainment hub.
“This new extension, being an urban waterfront regeneration project will transform the existing riverbank into a vibrant and modern waterfront development with an active waterfront promenade that caters to the public, tourists, surrounding community as well as residents, and other different end users.
“It is also a focal point for business activities,” said Chew Chiaw Han managing director of Ibraco.
According to an announcement on Bursa Malaysia, Ibraco and Pelita have entered into the joint venture for the design, construction and completion of the new Kuching waterfront extension development (Proposed Waterfront Extension Project) involving lands owned by the State Government of Sarawak and lands to be reclaimed along the Kuching waterfront (Project Lands).
The Golden Bridge
While works are underway for the riverbanks, the view of the Sarawak River will also be transformed via the development of a proposed bridge linking the North and South sides of Kuching.
The project, dubbed ‘The Golden Bridge’ in conjunction with Sarawak’s golden 50th anniversary last year, is expected to span 400 metres across the Sarawak River, with 3.25 metres width.
Its north bank approach is located near the new State Legislative Assembly (DUN) building while the south bank approach is sited at the current viewing tower near the Charles Brooke Memorial along the iconic Kuching Waterfront.
Former Chief Minister and current Head of State Tun Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud said in a speech during the launch, “The north, with numerous traditional Malay Kampungs, will have the existing Kampung as its dominant feature while the south, now very busy with all kinds of businesses being carried out, will continue to depict the active business community as its dominant feature.”
He added that the new link will provide Kuchingites and visitors alike, an alternative route to cross the Sarawak River.
The bridge is also part of the government’s initiative to develop the inner city based on the Legacy Square concept.
SEDC is the appointed implementing agency for the bridge which will soon be a new landmark of Kuching. The project will also see joint construction by contractors Naim Land Sdn Bhd and Cahya Mata Sarawak Bhd’s (CMS) main construction arm; PPES Works (Sarawak) Sdn Bhd.
According to CMS, once completed, the Golden Bridge is expected to help spur the economic growth and social integration by connecting the north and south of Kuching city.
“It will enhance the aesthetic value of the city and add character and contribute to the soul of the city.
“Furthermore, the bridge will become an integral part of the Halaman Heritage Trail, allowing easy access to Kuching’s historical sites,” it said.
CMS also said the construction of RM35 million Golden Bridge is expected to be completed within 24 months since the fourth quarter of 2013 (4Q13).
Further up north, in Sarawak’s second largest city; Miri, similar upgrades are en route on its coastlines and riverbanks.
The once quaint and quiet town, previously known as Malaysia’s oil town, now bustles with activities and economic developments; buoyed by Sarawak’s major oil and gas, and timber industries.
One such development is set to change not just Miri’s waterfront, but its landscape as well as the city is set to see one of its biggest facelift of the decade.
This massive change comes in the form of ‘the Wharf’ under the Miri Waterfront Transformation Project, waterfront development projects led by Unique Harvests Sdn Bhd (Unique Harvests), a subsidiary of Miri-based Interhill Group of companies.
The development of the Wharf consist of a modern 18-storey semi furnished high-end condominium, an international brand 24-storey five star hotel; Pullman Miri Waterfront Hotel, and 10 units of supersize shophouses, with a total RM450 million gross development value (GDV) and an area size of 1.8 hectares.
Aside from boosting the city’s waterfront image, the project also brings to Miri a change in its skyline as the city will see its first two high rise buildings.
“We are very lucky that Miri offers many comparative advantages, with its transformation into a vibrant and exquisite city over the recent years, its abundant natural resources and beautiful coast line.
“When we decided to develop the waterfront area, we had a dream and a vision. It is a vision where Miri’s economy is vibrant and strong, and growing with business and tourism.
“A dream where we call Miri city not only our home – but also the future for our children, where many businesses expand and more iconic areas like the waterfront as well as a lively hub of residences and offices, and restaurants, and a luxury hotel,” said Albert Hu, a director of Unique Harvests.
Elaborating more on Unique Harvests’ decision develop a part of Miri’s waterfront, Hu enthused, “A lot of our local community also foresaw this.
“They foresaw that the Miri Waterfront is set to become one of the most prime areas to come. And together with the support of the community, we are turning this shared vision into a reality.
“The Wharf is a forward thinking development. Buyers are not just buying a home, they are investing in a future.”
He added, “Quite simply, its name, ‘the Wharf’, encapsulates the development in a single word. It symbolises a new level of simple but modern and private lifestyle and comfort, all located within the very heart of Miri city.”
The construction work for the entire development will take place concurrently, with both high rise buildings going up at the same. The entire project is scheduled to be completed in three years, with completion anticipated in the fourth quarter of 2015.
The international ‘Pull’ factor
In addition, Hu highlighted, the Miri Waterfront Transformation Project will be a landmark not only for Miri or Sarawak, but also for Malaysia, as it will mark the opening of the fourth Pullman Hotel in Malaysia.
“We believe that the presence of a new international hotel performs a very important function and is most necessary for the development of our economy in Miri.
“First, a new international hotel sends a signal to the rest of Malaysia that Miri is open for business and that it can serve as a gateway to the rest of Sarawak.
“Second, a new international presence brings to our region human, economic and technical expertise that makes us and our children more prepared for the future.
“And thirdly, a new international presence is a continued indication that our city of Miri is both safe and secure and that opportunities for international investment and business exist here,” he explained.
In addition, with the coming of an international brand such as Pullman hotel in Miri, Hu expects the projects to bring Mirians great opportunities to learn new skills, especially in the field of international management.
Among things to look forward to at the 24 storey Pullman Miri Waterfront Hotel, include its 328 spacious rooms and suites, five restaurants and bars, modern open live cooking stations at the Signature Coffee House which faces the Miri river and the Specialty Restaurant.
The new hotel also boasts a lounging at the Poolside bar; the Bar Lounge, and a Grand Ballroom which fits a 1,000-pax banquet seating and offers views of the Miri River. There will also be seven function rooms, an executive lounge, and a signature pool at the hotel.
First of its kind
Aside from the project’s pioneering high rise buildings, other features which set the Wharf apart include its location and its unique blueprint.
Hu, outlining location as key to Unique Harvests’ investment plans, said; “The Wharf sits on an unparalleled piece of five star land, nestling right in the heart of the city.
“The project’s timing is impeccable, coinciding with the expansion of the Marina township right at the boundary of the Wharf, as well as capturing the captivating status as a new primary feature of the Miri city skyline.
“This parks the Wharf right in the centre of the Miri Township, making it the most centralise location in the city.”
In addition, he said the Wharf also adopts a unique “detached and semi-detached home in the sky” blueprint, whereby the layout of the building maximises the spacing between the units, which will improve the ventilation and circulation within each unit, and offer views of the Miri city centre and the South China Sea.
The Wharf’s residential high rise is also designed by the same interior designer as the Pullman Miri Waterfront Hotel, while its outdoors are decked with a wide range of facilities including a Sky Garden; the first of its kind in Miri.
“We had a vision 20 years back and we still have it now, which is to play our part in transforming Miri into a vibrant city.
“A desirable living city, which can be enjoyed and appreciated by its residents, and one that plays an important role in the economics of Sarawak.
“On top of that, to give back to the community of Miri. But this vision, as it is, is not one man’s job, and we are fortunate to be able to contribute.
“Giving back means a lot to us as a contributor, but also as an enterprise risen from it,” Hu concluded.
A marina city for ‘the Seahorse’
A stone’s throw away from the Wharf, another major development is underway which is set to excite the property development in Miri.
Spanning 550 acres with a 1.25-mile frontage to the South China Sea, Marina ParkCity master will bring a new business district that will double the size of the existing Miri City Centre.
“Our aspiration is to expand and transform Miri into an atmospheric city that puts people first. It will be a visionary model of liveability, vitality, sustainability and community with an enviable quality of life and flourishing businesses,” said Loh Poh Khim, deputy sales director of Pantai Bayu Indah, the master developer of Marina ParkCity.
“Miri deserves a waterfront so our response is a picturesque, active waterfront along the sea edge, transforming it into a picture-perfect postcard tourist destination,” Loh added.
Chee Siew Pin, chief operating officer of Pantai Bayu Indah, had said Marina Parkcity Miri project is part of a long term planning to make Miri what it is expected to be in 15 to 16 years’ time.
Currently, the project has completed its phase one and its second phase is in the making.
Arcadia Square; the centre of the whole project, will feature shops and offices lining the main entrance square with Victoria Plaza, forming its central core.
The square also of four and five-storey shop/office buildings, while a major international hotel chain based in Singapore has expressed keen interest to operate the proposed hotel there.
Adding new to the old at Sibu’s waterfront
For Sibu, its waterfronts play a more utilitarian role compared to its other urban counterparts as the town is located at the confluence of the Sungai Igan and Sarawak’s longest river; the Sungai Rajang.
Its waterfronts are decked with wharf terminals catering to the two rivers’ heavy boats and ships traffic, while the town itself serves as an economic centre to towns, districts and numerous rural districts in Sarawak that are only accessible and/or are more easily accessible via the Sungai Rajang or Igan River.
Nevertheless, while Sibu retains age-old waterfront function, the town is also undergoing improvements to its coastlines; namely the development of Sibu Town Square Commercial Centre.
Developed by Fullyard Sdn Bhd (Fullyard), chief executive officer Dato Sri John Lau has said that this project will do wonders for the town and will transform and provide Sibu a new vibrant commercial centre which will augur well for the tourism industry.
In a press conference late last year, he said RM250 million worth of projects for Sibu Town Square Commercial Centre are in the making.
The development project will be on a 16-acre lot at Sibu Town Square Phase 2.
“The project components include 105 units of shop, a unit of eight-storey budget hotel with 160 rooms, a unit each of eight and six-storey office towers and 100 units of condominium with four penthouses,” he said.
According to Fullyard, The project when completed, is perceived as Sibu’s new commercial hub where people can live, work and play at the same place. This is because there will be apartments, a hotel, shops and restaurants.
Lau has also commented that the project would further elevate Sibu’s image as a green city.
“We are spending RM25 million on the landscaping works which will dramatically change the landscape of the town square. I believe this is the first place where so much has been spent to do landscaping in the state,” he opined.
Additionally, Fullyard noted that more than a half kilometre of RM15 million new riverwall and promenade will double the existing water frontage of the town square while an eight metre wide promenade will include pocket gardens with lush shady trees where the public can rest and enjoy the scenic waterfront sunset of Sibu.
It explained, the RM5 million new landscaped park includes new sub-soil drainage works as improvement and upgrading works for the existing town square turfed area, so that it remains dry for outdoor activities like kite-flying and remote-control model airplanes.
The town square is slated to transform Sibu’s once the works are completed.