Kuching is a blossoming city that has seen rapid expansion over the past few years.
More so now than ever, its residents and visitors alike see structures such as government buildings, shopping centres, hypermarkets, roads and flyovers popping up rapidly.
With all these developments and expansion programmes, the existing city centre and central business district (CBD) has filled up with no subsequent room to grow.
The little pockets of land that remain in the city are not suitable to build any new CBDs.
The envisioned idea to develop a new CBD in Kuching came about more than a decade ago.
The Isthmus was chosen because of it sizeable land area of about 297 acres, strategic location and great potential to be properly planned.
A catalyst project in the form of the Borneo Convention Centre Kuching (BCCK) was built for this project to take a definitive foothold in the area and be developed into a vibrant new township.
With a very clear vision from the state government as to what the new CBD should encompass and portray, the master plan for The Isthmus was approved at the end of August.
It was slated as a green township, forward-looking and visionary to complement the BCCK which at the forefront of the Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions industry (MICE) is currently bringing a lot of visitors (foreign and domestic), revenue and attention to Sarawak as a whole.
Cahya Mata Sarawak Bhd (CMSB), in an ambitious joint venture with Sarawak Economic Development Corporation (SEDC) created CMS Land Development Sdn Bhd (CMS Land) to oversee the development of the Isthmus with an estimated gross development value of RM2.8 billion.
CMSB group managing director Dato’ Richard Curtis told the BizHive Weekly, “This is a joint venture with the state government.
“We have been entrusted to drive this development project to meet the needs of the growing city and the people.” To design this dynamic new addition to the city, a team of leading master planners from the US and Kuala Lumpur was brought in to work with a local architectural firm to conceptualise the The Isthmus as the site for the new CBD.
With a distinctly Sarawakian identity and design, the mammoth project was slated to be eco-friendly at heart and effectively the very first Green Building Index (GBI) certified township in Sarawak.
GBI is a certification scheme started by the Malaysian government to certify buildings with the right green components whether it is from rainwater harvesting, efficient construction, recycling materials, efficient use of electricity, proper sun-shading, and so on.
With regards to this, Curtis stated, “Every building here will be GBI certified thus making the project a GBI certified township.
“The GBI certification has now been extended from merely office and commercial buildings into entire townships.
“This is going to be the first one in Sarawak.” Curtis continued, “The Isthmus will be a great catalyst for the transformation of Kuching with its sense of landscaping.
It had to reflect what Sarawak is about – rivers and this project was definitely destined to be Kuching’s green riverine CBD.
Having a critical component such as a river in a township was an advantage not to be ignored and to actually incorporate it as part of the township would do wonders for the success of the project.
Taking cues from major cities that celebrated and accentuated their waterways since time immemorial, The Isthmus was slated to be a hub of riverine features with water transportation, canals and low rise buildings to enhance the adjacent waterways.
Apart from the township per se, the state government was striving to establish an intricate network of transportation modes to facilitate accessibility to The Isthmus in order to facilitate connectivity in the long run.
To this end, there would be a transportation hub with water taxis and buses located in the vicinity of the west bank of The Isthmus.
Currently funding for a river taxi jetty near the BCCK had been approved by the government, as announced by the state Minister of Tourism, Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg.
As part of a riverine connectivity network, the state government was slated to upgrade the infrastructure to improve the public transport system and overall quality of living in the city which in turn would improve tourism standards in the state.
The chairman of the SEDC Datuk Talib Zulpilip stated, “Credit must be given to those involved in the planning and ongoing implementation process as they are meticulously executing the project as envisaged in the master plan.”
“When the various buildings are implemented over time the Isthmus would be a good addition to the landscape and skyline of Kuching. The completed project will be replete with well planned and developed infrastructure, facilities such as hotels, a convention centre, sports facilities, well designed houses, shopping centres and numerous other components that are essential for a CBD.
“Ultimately it will be an ideal place to work, shop, live and for recreation. Being surrounded by water on both sides, this is an area with vast potential for water sports and recreational activities. Kuching is already a preferred venue for water sport activities with the recently successfully held International Waterski and International Wakeboard acting as testament in September.
“It was a great success that has generated a lot more interest and I am sure that more international events will flow in and be another boost for tourism in the state,” he enthused.
Incorporating the philosophy of being visionary and very progressive, The Isthmus would also reflect the longstanding culture and tradition of its homeland that the locals can identify with and that visitors will glimpse and take back with them.
Elaborating on the elements of the project Curtis highlighted, “There are certain Sarawak design elements that will make you feel you know you’re in Kuching. It is designed for Sarawakians, we’ve got Iban decorations, the use of balconies and connecting walkways with raised levels which remind of a ‘ruai’ in a longhouse. There is definitely a sense of belonging.
“It is not designed for tourists alone. Tourists don’t come to Kuching to be in a cocoon. They come here because they like the people, the place and they feel like they can mingle. A lot of visitors come to Malaysia to be connected with the community. So this is primarily designed for locals and tourists are most welcome.”
Although the vision in itself was straightforward, the realisation of the master plan would take years to complete.
Already visible to visitors to the area was the BCCK, the marina and the upcoming Sarawak Energy Bhd headquarters which would be completed by the end of this year.
“With all systems in place, what remains to be seen is the materialisation of the mammoth project into a reality which would of course take a while. Property developments have a long gestation period, that’s the bottomline,” he rationalised.