A city best viewed from street level

A city best viewed from street level

Is Bangkok going to be made a "City of Seven Wonders"? After making us wonder with its 8.6-billion-baht riverside promenade, dubbed the "New Landmark of Thailand", the government is initiating a second wonder project as a new landmark for the capital -- the 4.6-billion-baht Bangkok Observation Tower.

I can't help but wonder why we need another high-rise that will mainly serve as an observation deck. Such a tower is needed in cities where high buildings are rare. Not Bangkok.

It is also interesting (or suspicious?) why the cabinet rushed to approve this project which will be located on a prime riverside plot next to ICONSIAM, a joint venture commercial project of Siam Piwat, Magnolia Quality Development Corporation and Charoen Pokphand Group. The cabinet bypassed the need for bidding required by the 2013 Public-Private Partnership Act, saying it could delay the project.

Sirinya Wattanasukchai is an assistant news editor, the Bangkok Post.

The tower will be operated by the newly established Bangkok Observation Tower Foundation. The 459-metre high, 29-storey tower will be built in Charoen Nakhon Soi 7 next to the Chao Phraya River. Of the total cost, 4.42 billion baht will go to construction and 198.5 million is to be paid to the landlord, the Treasury Department.

Given its location, the market value of this plot must be skyrocketing. If the project is open for bidding, it could draw dozens of business proposals with much higher land rent offers. Half of the project's funding, to be raised by the foundation, will come from loans from financial institutions and the other half from private sector donations.

If I were a commercial project developer in the area, I wouldn't mind donating a few hundred million baht for the new tower. Look at Google Maps and you can see that the planned tower is just a stone's throw from ICONSIAM, making it look like a part of the commercial project. The government said a private contractor chosen to develop the project will be required to comply with existing rules and regulations.

Although it said an environment impact assessment for the tower has been approved by the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning, City Hall hasn't yet received a request for a building permit. Has someone assumed the project would get the green light?

When travelling, I always look for a place to get a good view, but rarely pay for any observation deck. It's too boring to just watch a city from there. In most cities, there are free spots such as hills where one can enjoy a walk amid nature while watching people down below. Or if I have to pay, I would rather opt for spending it on a cup of coffee or a meal in a high-rise building.

The government plans to collect a 750-baht fee from each visitor, aiming for an annual revenue of about one billion baht. But it should first check out existing hotels in the Klong San area. One hotel there already offers a restaurant on the top floor with a panoramic view and glass elevators facing the Chao Phraya River. Why would tourists pay for a view from the tower if they could get a similar one for free from nearby hotels if they spend the same amount of money or less on a glass of wine or snack there?

The case reminds me of the Tour Maine-Montparnasse in Paris. The 14th tallest building in the European Union was built between 1969-1973, at 210-metres with an observation deck on top. To many, the building is a gigantic eyesore piercing into the Paris sky -- so unbearable that construction of any buildings higher than seven stories was banned in the city centre after the tower's completion -- but tourists would probably pay for the view. According to Wikipedia, the view from the top of the building is the most beautiful in Paris, because it is the only place from which the tower cannot be seen.

Called the "asparagus tower" by many for its grotesque design, the new Bangkok landmark may end up drawing tourists to hotels nearby to have a peek at its design from there. If the government wants to make about one billion baht from ticket sales a year, it would probably need a more low-profile design. The Bangkok sky is too polluted to see anything from afar. A view from a high-rise to look at the grainy Bangkok skyscape could be a waste of money. Bangkok is a city best enjoyed at street level.

Sirinya Wattanasukchai

Columnist

Sirinya Wattanasukchai is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.

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