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Find a cure for these eyesores
07/01/2009 The Malay Mail By Pearl Lee

EYESORES — such is the state of abandoned buildings in the country, left to rot despite having so much potential for other uses.

Over the years, many developments, ranging from shopping malls, business centres and parks to community centres, have been either neglected or abandoned.

While much has been discussed about vandalised "white elephants" of community centres and parks, I’m taking the opportunity to zoom in this week on abandoned shopping centres in the Klang Valley.

While Malaysia is promoted as a shopping destination among tourists and locals, many shopping malls have failed to live up to their promises, lying neglected and abandoned.

It was reported in 2006 that there were some 220 shopping centres, valued at RM40.4 billion, in the country. And this number does not include those which have been abandoned — projects that may be revived or rescued both by locals or foreigners.

On the plus side, we have diehards like the Sungei Wang shopping mall, which has remained relevant despite being one of the oldest malls in KL. It continues to remain popular among shoppers despite competitors mushrooming in the area over the years. Giant shopping complexes like the MidValley Megamall and Sunway Pyramid have also become established and continue to attract visitors.

But the same cannot be said about medium-scale office outlets cum shopping complexes. These struggle to stay relevant and one can’t help but ask just why you get shopping centres located just next to each other offering the same types of goods.

It makes one wonder just how much can be attributed to bad feng shui — which has been blamed by many as to why some commercial complexes fail to live up to expectations within the city.

Take shopping malls or business plazas in Ampang for instance. While the Ampang Point Shopping Centre remains the landmark shopping mall in the area, many other plazas nearby are already well on the way or soon will become mere white elephants.

Just a five-minute drive away from Ampang Point is the Galaxy Ampang Shopping Centre in Taman Dagang. Despite being in a part residential cum commercial area, it is still striving to attract visitors.

Another five minutes drive from there is Plaza Ampang Jaya, or what’s left of it. Located in a commercial area as well, the plaza opened its doors in the early 90s and is now in a sad state with only a handful of surviving shops.

Take another 10 minutes drive to Taman Putra Ampang and you will see Puteri Park Plaza. When first opened in the early 90s, it was among the first few shopping plazas aimed at serving the people of Ampang and Cheras. It failed to live up to its promise and it will be interesting to note that there is another complex called Paragon Point located about 500 metres away from Puteri Park.

In KL, the once famous Galleria Complex in Jalan Pahang has not been spared. Even its mighty Roman empire-inspired structure has failed to conquer the hearts of retailers and investors as it has been abandoned for over nine years.

The list goes on and one should now turn to a statement in 2002 by the then Housing and Local Government Minister Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting. He said that a Cabinet committee "has been set up to look into the safety aspects of hundreds of abandoned commercial buildings, many of them high-rise, in the country".

The Cabinet committee was set up following numerous complaints by the public on the dangers these abandoned buildings posed — including those with rusting tower cranes on top which could potentially topple over.

But there is a distinction — the committee’s focus was on abandoned projects and not abandoned buildings which were once occupied.

Neglected buildings are potential breeding grounds for mosquitoes, hangouts for drug addicts and also potential hideouts for criminals. Such unmaintained buildings may also pose a threat to the safety of passersby.

Can anything be done to give a lifeline to these buildings?

Since private firms are not willing to buy over these buildings, perhaps the authorities can consider doing so. With some renovation, one could use these places as a centre to house roadside hawkers or a place for single mothers or former drug addicts who have turned over a new leaf, to start businesses of their own — as opposed to building more food courts (that are also being abandoned) in the city.

Will the authorities, especially local councils, continue to approve more development plans for new commercial businesses and shopping complexes within close proximity of existing abandoned complexes or will something be initiated to ensure that "white elephant" buildings are not "given birth" to every other year?

Only time will tell.

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