It’s time to give the 136-year-old New Market a whole new look and feel — cool and comfortable, hip and happening.
The Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) is ready with a Rs 20-crore blueprint to reinvent the landmark market complex. The idea, says mayor Subrata Mukherjee, is that the city must start shedding its “shabby” look before scouting for investment to improve.
“New Market is the one brand that we possess and we cannot allow it to slip further,” said Mukherjee, explaining the urgent need to brand-leverage the CMC’s sole market-showpiece. The mayor aims to restore New Market to its rightful pride of place in the city mart map, long usurped by the likes of 22, Camac Street, Metro Plaza, Treasure Island and Big Bazaar.
The basic structure of the market needed a thorough overhaul, said Mukherjee after a preliminary round of discussions with CMC engineers and architects. “The market must be totally air-conditioned and geared to make shoppers from all over the world feel at home,” he added.
Mukherjee finds a close parallel with “the amazing reinvention of London’s Covent Garden”, where My Fair Lady had once been shot. “The market was pulled down to create a modern shopping mall… We will have to think big and bold if we are serious about showcasing our city.”
Though the idea has found favour with state municipal affairs and urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya, a tug-of-war has already started between the CMC and the traders. Mukherjee wants traders to be partners in the turnaround by paying a more realistic rent. “As end-users of a massive development project, they cannot expect the government and the CMC to shoulder the entire financial burden,” said the mayor.
“We will consider the proposal when we are sounded out,” said Pradip Chakraborty, secretary of S.S. Hogg Market Shopkeepers’ Welfare Association. But some of the traders said they would demand more space against more rent.
Bhattacharya, however, is enthusiastic. “Urban renewal is absolutely necessary for a reversal of the city’s fortunes,” he said, confirming that the mayor had spoken to him about his plans for New Market. “I have asked him to first prepare a formal plan and then submit it to me,” the minister told Metro.
The mayor’s plans include changing the interior of New Market to keep pace with the changing times and needs. This comes at a time when Calcutta is well into a retail boom. It’s a wave that hypermarts and superstores are keen to ride, pushing New Market — in its present shabby shape — ever closer to oblivion.
The distinctive façade of New Market will be kept unchanged, as far as possible. “But to change the rest, if need be we will have to take a fresh look at the Heritage Act,” Mukherjee said. “New Market was not designed to be a mausoleum.”
The rejuvenation of New Market — complete with an underground parking lot and pedestrian plaza — could go a long way in arresting the urban decay in the city centre, say planners.