Downtown area gets facelift as construction barriers for HCMC's first metro removed

By Gia Minh   January 24, 2023 | 05:00 pm PT
Downtown area gets facelift as construction barriers for HCMC's first metro removed
Traffic in front of Ben Thanh Market after the construction site for an underground metro station was removed. Photo by VnExpress/Dinh Van
After eight years, the downtown area of Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) has a new look thanks to the removal of the construction site for an underground metro station in front of Ben Thanh Market.

Nguyen, 55, the owner of a souvenir shop on Le Loi Street, fixed up his store after the barriers for the construction of the Ben Thanh Station of the metro line No.1 were taken down a few months ago.

During this year's Lunar New Year holiday, he put imported goods in front of the store's door and decorated it with signs to attract customers.

Nguyen said that his family's famous souvenir shop, which had been open for more than 10 years, had to switch to selling coffee because business was slow when the metro construction site was being built and after the pandemic struck two years ago.

In early 2022, Covid-19 receded and the construction barricades were taken down one by one.

He and the other business owners in the area were happy because the roads are now open to traffic, clean, and beautiful, and their businesses are doing well.

"After a long period of silence, the streets are now busy again as they have been full of tourists in the past few months," he said.

He added that during Tet, Le Loi Street was decorated and held many activities and music programs, and so many people came here to have fun and shop, which helped the store's sales go up 3–4 times what they were before.

Spanning nearly a kilometer, Le Loi is one of the four busiest streets in downtown HCMC. The street is near Nguyen Hue pedestrian street and Ben Thanh Market, and it is surrounded by many large commercial centers, hotels, and shops.

Starting in 2014, this street was turned into a construction site for an underground metro station in front of Ben Thanh Market as part of HCMC's metro line No.1.

During the eight years it took to build the metro line, the street, which used to be full of people, became empty. Since the construction affected their businesses, many owners stopped renting out spaces.

On top of that, there have been fewer international tourists in the last two years because of the pandemic, which hurt businesses even more.

With the construction site gone, the roads are once again clear, and rents have gone back up.

Businesses said that starting in April 2022, when the metro construction site took down the barriers, rental prices on Le Loi Street went through the roof.

The current rent for a 100-120 square-meter house with a ground floor, two upper floors on the main street is between VND170-VND250 million ($7,250–$10,660) per month. This amount is two to three times higher than what it cost when construction was still going on.

Tuan, 52, who sells office supplies on Le Loi, said that he has been renting space here for 20 years.

He used to pay VND100 million for rent every month, but now he has to pay VND150 million.

But because his shop is in a prime location, Tuan continues to rent it because he can make more money when the road is clear.

"This place will be worth more when the metro starts running, the surroundings are fixed is fixed up, and a pedestrian street is built," he said.

The sidewalk on Le Loi Street is now made of clean tiles, and there are many green spaces between the lanes for cars and motorbikes. Especially, the area in front of Ben Thanh Market, which used to be a big roundabout, but was torn down so the metro line could be built, has been returned to traffic. Only a small section of a barrier remains next to the September 23 Park to serve constructions of a few last parts of Ben Thanh Station.

The Department of Planning and Architecture says that in the near future, there will be a large square and many green areas in front of Ben Thanh Market.

This is where the statues of Tran Nguyen Han and Quach Thi Trang are. From Tran Hung Dao Street, traffic goes through Le Loi and stays on part of the same route to get to the city center. After that, the area will be finished according to the plan, with the front of the market and nearby areas such as the September 23 Park and Le Loi Street linked together.

Tran Quang Lam, director of HCMC's Department of Transport, said that this area will be "typical" of the transit-oriented development (TOD) model in the city. Like the Ben Thanh Station, this area will be connected with environmentally friendly transport means such as bicyces and electric buses. All of the projects are planned so that they serve public transportation and maintain the area's culture and architecture.

The Department of Transport made a plan to organize pedestrian routes on 22 central roads last year. This year, the area around Ben Thanh Market and Le Loi Street, as well as the Dong Khoi, Phan Chu Trinh, and Phan Boi Chau Streets, are expected to be turned into a chain of pedestrian streets. This will give people more places to wander around and have fun, as well as help the night economy in the central area grow.

The HCMC Urban Railway Management Board says that about 99% of the volume of the Ben Thanh Station of metro line No. 1 has been finished.

The structure is also being built at the same time as other metro lines to connect them in the future. The city wants to build underground space in an area with lots of shops and services that is connected to metro stations to make shopping and having fun easy and convenient.

Work began on HCMC’s first metro line in August 2012. It was scheduled to be completed in six years. The line, to run 19.7 kilometers between Ben Thanh and Suoi Tien Theme Park in Thu Duc City, has brought high hopes of opening up a new mode of mass transportation and addressing people's need to travel between the downtown area and the city's eastern gateway.

Metro line No. 1, which is expected to cost over VND43.7 trillion, is funded by Japanese overseas development assistance and Vietnamese counterpart funds.

The project is 94% done, and it should be completed by the end of this year.

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