Monday, September 17, 2007

Helium balloon to move

Hot-air balloon needs new home

THE search is on for a new home for the DHL balloon – and it has just three months to find one.

The lease on the Tan Quee Lan Street site, where it has been based for the past 16 months, will expire on Dec 31.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority said it cannot grant an extension as there are “other plans for the site”, which it is unable to disclose now.

James Heng, chief executive of Singapore Ducktours which owns the balloon, has suggested two alternatives to the authorities: a site in Beach Road opposite Park View Hotel or at Merchant Loop opposite Novotel Clarke Quay Hotel. He has not heard from them.

The Singapore Land Authority will help to find another site, but will open it for public tender.

If no green patch is found, the balloon might have to be deflated and packed away.

“I’m very sad, it’s my baby,” said Heng, who greets his balloon every day from his office window at Suntec Tower Two.

Or it might relocate to Kuala Lumpur or Johor Baru.

About S$2.5mil (RM5.75mil) has been pumped into the attraction, not including land rent which was over S$1mil (RM2.3mil) for two years. Calling it a day would cost the company S$1.2mil (RM2.76mil).

This includes S$800,000 (RM1.84mil) spent priming the ground for the balloon, plus S$60,000 (RM138,000) worth of helium.

The balloon operates daily, charging S$23 (RM52.90) for adults and S$13 (RM29.90) for children per ride. It rises to a height of 150m, about 40 storeys, and takes up to 29 passengers per trip. It has ferried 150,000 visitors to date.

Ticket sales – S$3.45mil (RM7.93mil) in the past 16 months – have been on track.

Heng is eyeing the Gardens by the Bay project in the Marina Bay area as another alternative and is in talks with the National Parks Board.

For now, Ducktours will offer free balloon rides to charities and deserving Singaporeans who write in till year-end. He said: “It’s our way of giving back to society.” – The Straits Times / Asia News Network

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