At last: Bangkok’s IconSiam opens
Six years in design and construction, Bangkok’s US$1.6 billion IconSiam development finally launched Friday night before opening its doors to the public Saturday morning.
With 500 stores, more than 100 restaurants and 14 cinema screens, a luxury apartment tower and a Mandarin Oriental serviced apartment tower, the ambitious development is probably the most significant addition to Asia’s retail landscape in decades.
On Friday night, 100,000 businesspeople, retailers, media and guests have been invited to an opening ceremony which kicked off a weekend of festivities costing US$30 million. A fleet of 1500 drones organised by Intel took to the sky above the Chao Phraya River and US singer Alicia Keys performed live on stage along the 400-metre riverfront promenade of the building.
Tickets to the invitation-only event, which also featured a raft of Asian entertainers, fireworks, light and water shows, were being touted online for 10,000 THB (US$300), despite never being sold in the first place.
On Saturday, thousands of Thais visited the 750,000sqm venue, with stores offering rewards for early customers – like H&M issuing a 20,000 THB voucher to its first – and Apple drawing long queues for its first official retail outlet in Thailand.
About 80 per cent of the stores at IconSiam are now open for business, the balance opening in ensuing weeks as fit-outs are completed and approved by offshore head offices. Among those yet to open are Prada and Victoria’s Secret.
Several stories above the retail and dining area remain under construction, scheduled to open in July. They will house a world-class 6500sqm River Museum, a 3000-seat concert hall and other community facilities. The cinemas will open in December.
Defining IconSiam is not easy.
“It’s not a mall. It’s not a mixed use project,” IconSiam MD Supoj Chaiwatsirikul told us Thursday night. “It’s a destination.”
The story of how IconSiam investors acquired the 8.8 hectare riverfront site gives an insight into how the project evolved into much more than a shopping centre. The owners of the land had been approached many times over the years, including by cashed-up foreign developers. But they wouldn’t sell – until Siam Piwat CEO Chadatip Chutrakul talked to them, promising to create something that could showcase Thai culture and history to the world and be something all Thais could be proud of.
Since then, IconSiam’s operational team has worked with Thais literally the length and breadth of the country to involve them in the project. Artworks and sculptures have been selected from 100 artists, mostly Thai, to appear throughout the complex, a 1.6 hectare space called SookSiam (“a city of Thai happiness”) features products and cultural heritage of the nation’s four regions, showcasing their handicrafts, performing arts, food, beverages “and local wisdom” in a single destination promised as “immersive, emotional and entertaining”.
“IconSiam inaugurates a globally innovative model for destination development that moves the project away from being a mall or a mixed-use complex to being an inspiring destination,” explains Chutrakul.
“It’s a place to regenerate and refresh, to be inspired and seek new ideas, and a place to discover the best of Thailand and the best on offer from around the world.”
Unprecedented coordination has taken place with city and government authorities to enhance the transport system surrounding the site. A new skytrain track – aptly called the Gold Line – is under construction linking two other rail routes and which ultimately will make it a 20-minute railway journey from downtown Bangkok to the river. The company has built its own wharf in front of the building and worked to enhance a network of 73 river piers making it easier to reach the venue. Some 45,000 Thais travel along the river using public transport every day and they are starting to find that more convenient than ever.
Work is continuing with landowners and hotel properties along the waterfront to create a public walkway, opening up the riverfront to the people for the first time in centuries.
SiamPiwat’s Siam Paragon shopping centre which, when neighbouring properties Siam Center and Siam Discovery are added, create the city’s largest single shopping destination, attracts about 250,000 visitors on a typical weekend day. The company expects IconSiam to draw as many as 400,000 once the project is fully operational. About 60 per cent of those will be Thais, the balance tourists, although it is obvious from the size and scale of the luxury duplexes facing the river – bearing brand names including Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Cartier and Hermes – that the ratio will be quite different zone-by-zone: The Icon Luxe part of the project is clearly designed to appeal to the growing legions of Chinese tourists heading to Thailand.
Another key retail drawcard of IconSiam is the country’s first Takashimaya department store spread over several levels and including a comprehensive food and grocery offer as well as fashion and accessories.