Amphawa's ancient shophouses saved

national September 04, 2012 00:00

By The Nation

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Developer bows to public pressure; agrees to put controversial hotel project on hold for now

Millionaire Choochai Chairitlert has relented after media and public criticism over his ambitious project to build a luxury hotel in place of a century-old row of wooden shophouses in Samut Songkhram's Amphawa district, telling locals at a meeting on Sunday he was ready to drop his plans. The area is famous for its wooden shophouses.

“I am ready to drop the project to dismantle these shophouses that are now considered national treasures. They will exist, but whether they remain where they are or move somewhere else remains to be discussed.

“The construction of the hotel has been called off until a final decision is made, even though I have spent so much.

“I will never be happy because even though I hail from Amphawa, I am not welcomed here,” he said tearfully.

Choochai, who owns 12 of the shophouses and the land they are on, had planned to build a luxury hotel and a complex of jewellery shops – a Bt500-million project he had hoped to call “Choochai Buri Sri Amphawa”.

However, the move met serious opposition from both local residents and visitors, with some launching an online campaign against the project.

locals ‘mourn’ plan

Occupants of six shophouses had to move out at the end of last month when their lease expired.

The buildings were to be torn down yesterday, but the demolition was cancelled after residents started laying flowers and messages at the site in mourning.

Choochai told the meeting the flowers and messages brought tears to his eyes and he decided to “leave these treasures to society”.

He said that nasty comments posted online referring to him and his project insulted him and his family, but he wasn’t angry.

“If everybody agrees that the shophouses should remain as they are, they will,” he said.

When asked if he would drop the project completely, he said: “It depends on the majority, if they are all against the project, I will drop it. Money doesn’t matter to me.”

Choochai has reportedly already spent Bt200 million on the proj-ect.

a lesson for the future

Mayor of Amphawa municipality, Sanchai Arayaasssanee, also told the seminar that the project had been prompted by the expiration of a city plan and that this issue would be a case study for future policies on deciding where investments and demolition of old buildings can be allowed.

Associate Professor Siriwan Silaphatcharanant from Chulalongkorn University lauded Choochai for his decision to review the project, adding that architectural adjustments could be made to the hotel project, such as making it a low-lying building, should the project continue.

In earlier interviews with the press, Choochai said he did not intend dismantling the shophouses but instead wanted to make them taller.

However, he said, engineers had recommended that he tear them down because the foundations had been weakened by termites.

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