Golden Sorya Mall (GSM), the semi-open air plaza on Street 51 in Phnom Penh best known for its seedy nightlife, will be undergoing an extensive renovation to make it “more commercially viable”, one of its investors said yesterday, refuting rumours that the near-empty venue faced imminent closure.
GSM, which opened in 2009, once operated at near-full capacity – with more than 100 shops and stalls leased to salons, arcades, minimarts, restaurants and bars. As of yesterday, the northern side of the block-long plaza was almost completely shuttered with locks on the store fronts, while only a few generally older male foreigners and their female Cambodian companions huddled in its cloistered central bar area.
Van Sou Ieng, a principal investor in GSM, insisted the derelict appearance was an intentional wind down as part of plan to rehabilitate Golden Sorya Mall, which has developed a reputation for alcohol, prostitution and drugs.
“There is no plan to sell the mall or close it from the investors in the property,” he said. “The mall will be going through a standard renovation phase that is focused on upgrading the facilities to make it more commercially viable.”
Sou Ieng said the renovation aimed at gentrifying GSM to attract a more upscale crowd.
“In the landscape of Cambodia’s improvement and the business environment of competition, the mall must look forward to create a design that matches consumer demand,” he said. “And our expectations are that tenants will benefit from more affluent consumers.”
He added that the first phase of renovation works would be carried out on the north side of GSM and are expected to be completed by May 2018.
“After that we will go in a stage-by-stage approach depending on how things go, but we are also considering timing,” he said.
While Sou Ieng declined to reveal how much was being invested in the renovation, he said the process would not result in beer taps suddenly being turned off, adding that existing tenants would be able to stay until their leases run out.
“[The mall] will accommodate tenants in the terms of [their rental agreement] and its expiry date before we start the renovation process,” he said.
Bruno Monte, the owner of Istanbul 7/24, a Turkish kebab restaurant that occupies a stall on the exterior of GSM, said he was informed by the mall’s owners that the renovations would begin in November.
“I know that for the gaming shops on the inside, the owners have not been renewing their rental contracts and that they are just letting them finish out the rest of the month,” he said as he chopped cilantro in between taking orders yesterday. “But that is a good thing because those [shops] have really driven down the expat clientele that my restaurant depends on.”
He added that while his sales were to some extent cyclical and tied to the low and high tourism seasons, in recent months they have fallen sharply as the mall visibly deteriorated.
“They tell us they want to turn GSM into more of a bar and restaurant destination like Pub Street in Siem Reap,” Monte said. “If the renovations are successful and the mall can get new tenants, this place could be completely different in six months. Any renovation is a positive thing for this area.”
At the Black Cat Bar, a long-established “girly bar” that lies kitty-corner to GSM on Street 51, part-time manager Chhoeun Veng Long said that while he had not been informed of the mall’s planned renovations he welcomed the news.
He said Golden Sorya Mall and the two big nightclubs adjacent to it – Pontoon and Heart of Darkness – were focal points of Street 51’s nightlife scene that bring customers to his bar.
“When they have a lot of business we have a lot of business,” he said.
Veng Long said business owners on Street 51 needed to address the area’s notoriety and clean up its image, as this would bring more foreign customers to establishments.
“If Golden Sorya Mall took the approach of perhaps a night market, and investors in the area started building nice apartment buildings or condos, this is a place that people would actually want to live in,” he said.