Why rent shoplots for traditional traders to hotel operator, Penang council asked

Gerakan Youth chief Ooi Zhi Yi(right) showing an ad by the city council inviting people to rent the shophouses for trading purposes.

GEORGE TOWN: A Gerakan leader wants to know why the top floors of a row of two-storey city council-owned heritage shophouses here have been taken over by a hotel operator.

Gerakan Youth chief Ooi Zhi Yi also wants to know why the ground floors, which were meant to be rented out to traditional traders, are still vacant.

Ooi said the five city council-owned shophouses at Kimberley Street had been advertised in booking.com and Agoda booking platforms as a lodge.

However, he said, following criticism by activists, the hotel appeared to have suddenly ceased operating and at least one advertisement had been pulled out.

At a press conference here today, he said the shophouses were initially restored by the council at the urging of the then chief minister Lim Guan Eng in 2015, with the promise that they would be rented out to traditional traders.

Ooi said whoever had allowed the five city council shophouses to be “abused” had utter contempt for what was originally planned and was also ignorant of George Town’s traditional traders.

The ground floors were meant for traditional tradesmen and the upper floors for families to stay.

“After heritage activists made some noise, it appears that the so-called hotel at the upper floors of these shoplots has stopped operating.

The row of council shophouses at Kimberley Street, George Town. (George Town Heritage Action pic)

“Ultimately, the property is owned by the council and it’s difficult to believe that the council does not know that the shophouses have been turned into a hotel or are occupied.

“Where is the monitoring by the city council? And what has happened to the traditional traders who were supposed to occupy the ground floors?” he asked.

Ooi said the ground floors of the shophouse remained vacant despite having been restored by the council in June last year.

“After a year and a lot of money spent, there is no one in the shophouses.”

The city council together with state heritage site managers George Town World Heritage Inc and Khazanah’s Think City restored the shophouses in 2018.

It was part of the council’s plan to repopulate George Town and to allow co-living and commercial spaces, specifically for traditional traders.

It was reported that a total of six shophouses were restored. The council spent RM3.2 million to restore them from Feb 16, 2017 to June 15, 2018.

FMT has contacted Mayor Yew Tung Seang for comment and is awaiting his reply.