Eyebrows raised over Tourism Ministry’s plans to build high-rise building at MaTic

MaTic building Jalan Ampang

Plans are afoot to build a 21-storey tower at the Malaysian Tourism Centre (MaTic) in Jalan Ampang, Kuala Lumpur.

The RM255 million building, once completed, will serve as the new administration building for 35 MaTic staff and will double up as a handicraft and souvenir sale centre.

Mooted by the Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministry and to be developed by Bina Puri Aramak Sdn Bhd, the project involves a land swap deal between the government and the private entity. The cost of the construction will be fully borne by the developer.

In return, there will be a construction of a luxury hotel on a separate piece of land in MaTic which is presently a parking lot.

Sources say the 21-storey building is to be developed on the Lanai field at MaTic, whose heritage status was revoked in 2016.

The project was approved by the Barisan Nasional government in 2017 but stalled following Pakatan Harapan’s victory in last year’s general elections.

The new office block is to be built on land with an estimated market value of RM288 million.

It is understood a proposal on the project was signed off by the higher-ups in the Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministry and has been sent to other ministries and agencies including the Finance Ministry, Economic Affairs Ministry, Public Private Partnership Unit (UKAS) and Federal Land Commissioner for approval.

While the government is set to gain RM26 million from the project, questions have been raised on the need of the new facility and how the project would affect the heritage status of the old MaTic building.

Among issues raised by observers are:

  • A four-storey administrative block for MaTic staff, costing RM13 million, was built in 2011.
  • The four-storey block and the existing two-storey colonial block at the site are occupied by the 35 staff from MaTic and 30 staff from Tourism Malaysia.
  • There are existing souvenir shops in MaTic.
  • Kuala Lumpur Craft Complex in Jalan Conlay, just 2km from MaTic, offers a variety of authentic craft including jewellery, costume and textiles.
  • Central Market, KL Tower and KLCC, barely 3km from MaTic, also sell souvenirs.
  • The government only stands to gain RM26 million in cash from the deal.
  • The development project will affect the aesthetic value of the existing heritage sites – Dewan Tunku Abdul Rahman and the colonial MaTic building.

 

“About 800,000 tourists visit MaTic yearly, and the construction of the hotel and 21-storey building will cause a lot of inconveniences. Will there be enough parking lots for visitors including tour buses?” asked one observer.

“Would tourists want to go up to a 21-storey building to purchase souvenirs? And 21 floors to house 35 staff?

Another source said while there may have been a need for the building to house staff from the Craft Complex as it was to have made way for the MRT3 project, the transportation project has hit the brakes under the new administration.

“There is also maintenance cost to consider and ensuring the building has an occupancy rate that makes financial sense. It shouldn’t be another a white elephant.”

Another source questioned why the ministry is pushing for the project when the government should work towards restoring the heritage status of the adjacent lands.

Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministry secretary-general Datuk Isham Ishak confirmed the plans.

“But they are still at the planning stages and no decision has been made,” Isham told Twentytwo13 this morning.

Isham said the idea was to turn the whole area into a tourism hub but the development must be in line with the heritage status of MaTiC’s old building.

The original building is a heritage building so we have to maintain that. What we build around must take into consideration the conditions listed under the National Heritage Act.

When asked the need for a big building when MaTic only has 35 staff, Isham said: “This is why we need to do a feasibility study to find out what is the optimum development plan, taking into account the heritage status of the old building.”

Isham also said he is unable to comment if the building will be used for any other purpose.

“We always take into account the needs of tourists in an area. But it is the Cabinet who will make the final decision,” he added.

The hotel project first came to light in 2016 during former Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz’s tenure.

The project courted controversy after former National Heritage Department’s Commissioner of Heritage Dr Zainah Ibrahim revoked the heritage designation of “Lot 45 Section 58, Lot 139 Section 58 and part of Lot 158 Section 57, The Old Building of MaTic”.

Heritage status MaTic
The National Heritage Department revoked the heritage designation of the sites, as seen in this 2016 notice published in an English daily.

Nazri defended the action and clarified the ministry was only seeking to revoke the heritage status of parts of MaTiC’s immediate vicinity which included the Lanai field, front yard and adjacent parking space to enable development.

For the record, the Heritage Department is an agency under the Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministry.

Nazri had also then said it would be a waste of space if the area was not fully utilised.

In 2017, the management of the iconic Saloma Bistro & Theater Restaurant at MaTic was informed their 15 year lease, awarded in 2002, will not be renewed following plans to redevelop the area. The eatery had hosted several national-level events and concerts in the past.

The original MaTic building was constructed as a family residence in 1935 by Eu Tong Sen, a wealthy mining and rubber estate tycoon. The original building, which sits on 2.6 hectares of land, was relatively smaller but was given several facelifts over the years.

The British government took over the building and transformed it into its military base at the start of World War Two. Subsequently, it became the Japanese government’s military base after the Japanese army overran Malaya in 1941.

The building also witnessed several important historical events. Among them was the inaugural opening of the Federation of Malaya Conference by the first king, Tuanku Abdul Rahman Tuanku Muhammad on September 12, 1959.

It had also served as the venue for the coronation ceremony of four Malaysian kings – Tuanku Syed Putra Syed Hassan Jamalullail, Tuanku Ismail Nasiruddin Shah Sultan Zainal Abidin, Tuanku Abdul Halim Muazzam Shah Sultan Badli Shah and Tuanku Yahya Petra Sultan Ibrahim.