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The Straits Times, 13 Mar 04

Top-draw resort for southern isles
By Audrey Tan

Sentosa and other enlarged islands will be linked up in ambitious plan to attract rich and famous. Casino idea under study

SENTOSA is about to become a must-visit spot for the world's rich and famous, with even a casino likely to be among its new attractions.

A part of the island, called Sentosa Cove, along with the Southern Islands, will be transformed into an international resort playground with white sand beaches, marinas, spas, gourmet restaurants, high-end fashion malls and possibly even a gambling spot for high rollers.

The plans were sketched out by Trade and Industry Minister George Yeo in Parliament yesterday.

The world-class resort and residential development will be spread over some 500 ha, about the size of 10 Botanical Gardens.

The Southern Islands - made up of the two Sisters Islands, Pulau Seringat, Lazarus Island and St John's Island - have already been enlarged by reclamation. They will be linked to Sentosa by boat or by a bridge, and further reclamation will be done to create the development.

And in the first-ever indication by the Government that casinos may be allowed in Singapore, Brigadier-General (NS) Yeo said: 'We are keeping an open mind on what to have in this development, including the possibility of having a casino.'

But he reassured the House that there will be measures in place to limit access to the casino by Singaporeans and to keep out organised crime.

BG Yeo was speaking during the debate on the ministry's budget for the coming financial year. In his speech, he also gave an update on Singapore's economy, its external wing and the benefits Singapore has derived from its Free Trade Agreements (FTAs).

Singapore's present growth momentum is strong and 'of good quality', he said. 'Growth is broad-based and in sectors which will help secure our longer-term future.' Singapore has also enlarged its external space through its investments overseas and through the FTAs. From 1992 to 2002, its direct investments overseas has increased from $22 billion to $146 billion.

Its FTAs have increased trade, helped create new jobs, as well as keep jobs in traditional industries such as the textiles and apparel industry. If more companies and Singaporeans can be encouraged to venture overseas, Singapore's gross national product - which includes income from abroad - will be significantly greater than its gross domestic product in 10 years' time, BG Yeo said.

Singapore is also intent on building a vibrant business environment so it can be the London of Asia. 'We are liberalising in a controlled manner, sometimes experimenting along the way,' he added.

The development of Sentosa Cove and the Southern Islands is a case in point. BG Yeo said: 'What we envisage is an international facility separate from Singapore, but accessible to all Singaporeans, with more relaxed rules to attract international talent, visitors and investments.' The project will help Singapore maintain its position among the front rank of cities in 21st century Asia, he added. Besides hotels, private homes, marinas, retail and food outlets, the development will also have sports complexes, convention centres, venues for international shows and theme attractions.

Plans are still at an early stage, as the Government has not yet engaged international consultants to help map out the possibilities.

But BG Yeo yesterday pointed to Atlantis, Paradise Island in the Bahamas as an indication of what is possible. Atlantis offers a range of water sports, gourmet dining, haute couture fashion, world-class spas and clubs. Its hotels charge between US$215 (S$365) and US$2,450 a night.

But BG Yeo added that what could emerge in Sentosa 'will be and will have to be uniquely Singaporean'.

Mr Darrell Metzger, chief executive of Sentosa Leisure Group, also likened the Sentosa/Southern Islands development to Palm Island in Dubai where international jetsetters will pay for exclusivity.

The planned development will plug a gap in Singapore and Asia, he said. 'Singapore doesn't have a really classy destination resort now to bring the family to... This development also won't have a lot of competition in Asia,' he added. Industry operators were also excited about the opportunities that will open up. Mr Steven Choo, senior vice-president of research and direct investments at property developer CapitaLand, said: 'It's fresh; it ups the ante and takes us to a different scale.'

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