An acronym for Kompleks Tun Abdul Razak, Komtar was named after Tun Abdul Razak Hussein, the second prime minister of Malaysia, who officiated in the piling of Phase 1 on 1 January 1974. It bears the same name as Kompleks Tun Abdul Razak in Johor Bahru, built about the same time but on a smaller scale.
Within Komtar is Komtar Tower, which originally had 65 storeys and a height of 232 meters (761). The revitalisation of Komtar in 2015 added three more storeys to Komtar tower, giving a total of 68 storeys and a present height of 249 meters (817 ft). The 4-storey podium of Komtar houses a shopping centre and government offices. In addition, there is a geodesic dome that follows the design by Buckminster Fuller.
At the time of its construction, Komtar is regarded as one of the cutting-edge buildings in Penang. Komtar was the vision of the then Chief Minister of Penang Dr Lim Chong Eu to revitalize the urban centre of George Town and usher the state forward.
The architect involved in the design of the building was Lim Chong Keat, the younger brother of Dr Lim. When it reached its full height during construction, the Komtar Tower was briefly the second tallest building in Asia, after Sunshine City in Tokyo, but by the time it was completed, the title has passed to the Korean Life Insurance Building (KLI 63 Building) in Seoul.
Komtar as viewed from Magazine Circus (8 August 2006)
At the time of its completion (Komtar was never ever fully completed, only the first two phases were constructed; the remaining phases were either abandoned, postponed indefinitely or privatised), Komtar was the premier shopping destination on Penang Island, and home to all the upmarket retail outlets. It was the pride of Penang. Over the years, however, with increasing competition from newly opened shopping centres such as Gurney Plaza, Queensbay Mall, and Sunshine Square, Komtar lost much of its luster.
The list of negative issues resulting from Komtar is indeed a long one. To make way for Komtar, whole streets and neighbourhoods were erased without much regard to its consequence. This wholesale displacement of the population from the city core results in a dead town around Komtar. This includes Gladstone Road and the original Cheong Fatt Tze Road (Hong Kong Street was renamed Cheong Fatt Tze Road thereafter). The transfer of the bus and taxi terminal into Komtar and the lack of space for buses and taxis contributed further to traffic congestion and pollution.
The economy slowdown of the late 90's exerted a heavy toll on Komtar. Both its anchor tenants, Yaohan and Super Komtar departmental stores, succumbed to financial difficulties, subsequently closing down. Without a good anchor tenant, Komtar is incapable of holding on to the title of premier shopping destination. A poor track record of maintaining the building further compounds the problems, resulting in a run-down, smelly, garbage-strewn structure with many dark, deserted nooks. This makes the whole complex all the more unattractive to potential tenants. In a way, all the problems caused by and resulting from Komtar is a shameful reflection of the aimless way that Penang is being governed - indeed the state of Komtar can be compared to the general state of abandoned shophouses around George Town.
View of Komtar with then newly completed 1st Avenue Mall (19 January, 2011)
Updates on Komtar
20 January, 2016 The Star reports that Only World Group Holdings Bhd (OWG) is expected to complete the revitalisation of Komtar's 65-storey tower by the end of 2016.
20 March, 2013
Ground breaking ceremony for the facelift on the Komtar Tower. Komtar will have a new banquet hall that can accommodate 700 diners. There will also be a state-of-the-art mall and the world's highest external glass lift (aka bubble lift) that will take visitors to the world's highest open-air restaurant, on the 65th level of Komtar. The project will be undertaken in two phases with the banquet hall and the rest of the mall completed at the end of 2013 while the rest of the renovation completed by end of 2014.
2 October 2012: The Komtar Multi Storey Car Park was closed indefinitely following a legal dispute between the Penang Development Corporation (PDC) and the car park's management. This follows the High Court ruling of 7 July 2012 granting PDC the right to terminate the lease agreement in its suit against Tropiland Sdn Bhd, the tenent of the 9-storey car park.
17 November 2010: ICT Digital Mall opened at Komtar just two weeks before 1st Avenue Mall opens across Jalan Ria when its anchor tenant Parkson Department Store begins operations there.
Komtar, with 1st Avenue Mall and Prangin Mall (6 February, 2013)
17 August 2010: The state government, in a bid to bring the shine back to Komtar, is looking into installing a bubble lift that will take visitors right up to the 65th floor of the tower. The government is called for a Request for Proposal (RFP) to revive the 59th, 60th, 64th and 65th floors of the tower.
Dec 2008: I am happy to note that Komtar is finally seeing some overdue facelift. Sections of the massive complex is now being refurbished. The toilets are looking clean and new, the escalators are working (for now, and I hope, continuously from now). A new anchor tenant is the form of Pacific Komtar Department Store to occupy the site previously taken by Super Komtar. Next door, business is also improving at Prangin Mall, and at time of writing (Nov 2009), 1st Avenue Penang is also on the way to opening. So, in due time, I hope to see a return to the shine of Komtar.
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