I’m all for the government’s urban renewal program which began with the Cinnamon Gardens police station and culminated in the lovely Dutch Hospital. Thus I was looking forward to the renovation of the old Colombo Racecourse grounds, which was just opened. But, so far, it’s quite disappointing.
It looks like the vision for that space is to make it a sort of mid-quality / high-priced mall. First off, there’s a McDonald’s there, which, in such a nice colonial building is a bit of an eyesore. The other Sri Lanka McDonald’s are under an Abans (Bambalapitiya) or in their own indistinct buildings (Rajagiriya, Nugegoda). I’m not saying that international McDonald’s can’t have character or design, but in Sri Lanka they kinda don’t. I’m a fan of the McRice if nothing else, but a McDonald’s anywhere would work. It’s unclear why they have it here.
But, honestly, the McDonald’s is probably the best thing they have there now. The other shops are a Laksala, Origin, Colours, Le Bond and Promate. There is a huge Laksala literally 200 meters down the street and I don’t think the demand is so high that there needs to be another one. The other shops are weak brands one associates with Majestic City. I didn’t even know what Promate was (it’s a stationer) and still don’t get what Colours is.
This is in stark contrast to the Dutch Hospital, where they brought in the smartest retail and food outlets in Sri Lanka – ODEL, Barefoot, Harpo’s, O Bar (which I think is Machang and Breweries company), Ministry Of Crab (Nihonbashi), Hilton, etc. Those were top tier brands at decent prices.
I could understand if they were trying to make the Colombo Racecourse a more affordable alternative, but these shops aren’t much cheaper. Nor do they make much sense together. Laksala is a tourist spot, but why would tourists want stationery or mediocre clothes? For locals shopping there, why would they choose the Racecourse over the nearby malls with the same products and more.
And I haven’t even gotten to the restaurant, R&R. That place has a great location overlooking the grounds but an unimaginative menu, no alcohol (as of yet, if ever, the grounds is near a school), and a lime sode and milkshake cost about Rs. 900. Which is just wrong.
I really hope that the Colombo Racecourse works out. They’re building much more space besides. As is, however, it completely doesn’t use the outdoor space it has (the stands and grounds) and makes the rest of it into a cheap and unnecessary mall. For now it’s kinda lame. What I’d recommend is the forbidden Chinese restaurant tucked behind the grounds, which isn’t part of this development plan at all.
For further reading, YAMU has a more comprehensive review of the new Colombo Racecourse, with pictures.