The founder of Zouk, Mr Lincoln Cheng, says he is tired of getting short lease extensions for the popular dance club’s Jiak Kim Street site.
If he does not get a three-year extension he is now requesting, he will close the 23-year-old iconic nightspot for good by the end of this year.
Mr Cheng, 67, revealed this to The Straits Times earlier this month, ending recent speculation as to what will eventually happen to the much-loved Singapore club.
Currently ranked No.7 in the world by DJ Mag, an influential US music magazine, Zouk has become an internationally recognised name on the global club circuit.
Each week, the club’s five outlets – Wine Bar, Phuture, Velvet Underground-Dance and Velvet Underground-Lounge and the Zouk main dance hall – draw more than 10,000 revellers from Singapore, Asia and other parts of the world. It is the only club that has won the prestigious Best Nightspot Experience award from the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) a record nine times.
Last year, financial audit firm Ernst & Young valued the home-grown brand and its business at $40 million.
When the club first opened in 1991, the land around it was largely vacant. But today, the club – which is situated within three recently conserved riverside warehouses – is dwarfed by neighbouring condominiums and hotels. It was no surprise, therefore, when questions about the fate of Zouk started making the rounds in 2012.
In the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s (URA) latest Master Plan, which governs Singapore’s development over the next 10 to 15 years, Zouk’s premises are within a larger site zoned for residential use, with commercial activity on the first floor.
The site has not yet been listed for sale under the Government Land Sales Programme.
It has been reported that its lease was extended till last June, when it first expired in 2012, and once more until June 30 this year.
Last month, the authorities gave a third extension – this time for only six months until the end of December.
A URA spokesman said: “The site was first leased to Zouk in 1990 for interim use as the surrounding area was not fully developed and there were no firm development plans for the site at that point in time. The lease was extended subsequently as there were still no firm plans to develop the site. Over time, the surrounding area has become an established residential precinct. As such, the use of the site by Zouk has become incompatible with the residential nature of the area.”
Mr Cheng said: “We can’t live with six months’ extension. It takes three years to set up a new club. We wanted the new Zouk to be ready when the old Zouk closes.”
Speaking candidly to The Straits Times, Mr Cheng, an avid music lover and art collector, said: “Zouk is like my baby. It is like losing my child, like losing a family member. I am still active. I have no desire to retire.”
But the entrepreneur said he also felt the need to be responsible to his staff, who have been asking him for his decision as to what to do with the club when the lease expires. “If no other options present themselves before the lease expiry, it will make it necessary for the club to bow out of the Singapore entertainment scene,” he said.
He added that Zouk will soon make the necessary preparations in the areas of hardware, administration and human resource for its closure. Mr Cheng plans to have a series of farewell parties and a final instalment of the 2014 ZoukOut festival to thank the club’s loyal fans.
The veteran entrepreneur said he had started a search for a new home for Zouk as early as 2010, and the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) showed him four sites in Sentosa. “We didn’t like Sentosa because it is a one-way road out,” said Mr Cheng.
The “stunning-looking” building that housed the former Tanjong Pagar Railway Station caught his eye. “But we were told by URA that piece of land is not available. It is too political still, so don’t even think about it,” he said.
An STB spokesman told The Straits Times that the board has been facilitating talks between Zouk and various organisations, including various commercial entities and fellow government agencies such as the Singapore Land Authority and the URA.
It said it wanted to help Zouk identify alternative locations beyond its current tenancy at Jiak Kim Street, but its spokesman declined to reveal details of the sites “due to business confidentiality”.
Meanwhile, Zouk’s head of business development and public relations, Miss Sofie Chandra, 31, told The Straits Times that the closure of Zouk Singapore will not affect its sister club in Kuala Lumpur. The 10-year-old Zouk KL, a seven-room nightspot currently located in Jalan Ampang, has found a new site, and it will be relocating to TREC, a new lifestyle and entertainment precinct in downtown Jalan Tun Razak next year.
When told of the news, celebrity presenter and Zouk regular Najip Ali said he was shocked.
“When Zouk opened, it was ahead of its time. In the 1990s, Zouk put a stamp on the kind of nightlife that didn’t exist.” It was where he learnt about music and deejays. “Zouk has been and is still an institution,” he said.