GEORGE TOWN: The long-awaited Sia Boey rejuvenation project, which aims to restore the iconic landmark in George Town, looks set to finally take off three years after its initial restoration plans hit a snag.
The first phase of the project, to be carried out at a cost of RM6 million, is expected to be completed in August.
It includes the rehabilitation of the Prangin Canal, the conservation of the old Prangin Market and the upgrading of the site’s landscaping.
This, according to Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, will be followed by Phase Two of the project, which covers the restoration of the shophouses and upgrading of its surrounding landscape.
“The project’s core objective is to transform Sia Boey into an area that facilitates the co-existence of development and heritage conservation in our beloved city of George Town.
“The renewed Sia Boey is to be in line with George Town’s Unesco World Heritage Site listing.
“It will also revitalise the area around Komtar Phase 5, the 1st Avenue Mall and Prangin Mall, making it the socio-civic centre and business hub of the state,” he said in his speech at the launch of the restoration project.
Present were Penang Island City Council (MBPP) mayor Yew Tung Seang, Penang Development Corporation (PDC) general manager Rosli Jaafar and George Town World Heritage Incorporated (GTWHI) general manager Ang Ming Chee.
Lim also said Sia Boey would be transformed into an urban park that emphasised on heritage.
It will allow the communities to continue carrying out events that have traditionally been carried out in the area, such as the rituals for the Hungry Ghost Festival, which have been held there since the 1850s.
“The vision for this project is to protect Sia Boey’s heritage buildings and practices while promoting a sustainable and liveable public space.
“There are also plans to turn Sia Boey into a centre for traditional trades and crafts that empowers local traders,” Lim said.
Following the launch, a public exhibition showcasing the project’s overall concept plan would be held at the Sia Boey Market, starting today until Friday (March 30).
A similar exhibition will also be held at the GTWHI office on Lebuh Acheh from April 2 to 6.
Both exhibitions are open to the public to provide feedback on the project.
Today’s launch marked a significant step forward for the rejuvenation project. Plans to conserve the area had been announced as far back as 2010 by the PDC, which owns the land on behalf of the state.
An urban park was to be built and the historic canal at the market site was supposed to be brought back to life by rehabilitating its waters.
In September 2015, the Penang government even announced the conservation of a section of the Prangin Canal, the Victorian-era market and a row of shophouses facing the canal.
The RM100 million project, entitled “Sia Boey Reborn”, was intended to transform the area into a Penang Heritage Arts District.
A private gallery art museum, called Ilham Penang, was supposed to have opened there as well. Had it been built, Ilham Penang would have been the largest private art museum in the country.
The PDC was reported to have spent several million ringgit rehabilitating the 2.22ha site, building a new drain diversion and strengthening the structure of the shophouses.
However, barely six months later, the Penang government appeared to have scrapped the “Sia Boey Reborn” project. The heritage arts project was moved instead to a vacant lot on Macallum Street Ghaut.
Sia Boey, also known as Ujung Pasir, was once a bustling market filled with commercial and cultural activities, as well as a display of Penang’s culture, heritage and commerce in its heyday.
In 2016, a granite structure was uncovered at the Sia Boey site, and identified to be the Old Prangin Canal Basin by Universiti Sains Malaysia’s Centre for Global Archaeological Research.