The KOMTAR Tower in George Town is Penang's tallest skyscraper, standing at almost 249 metres tall. KOMTAR, an acronym for Kompleks Tun Abdul Razak, is actually a multi-purpose complex containing administrative offices of the Penang state government (including the Chief Minister of Penang's office) and the Penang Island City Council, retail outlets and a transportation hub. Due to its towering height, it serves as one of the most prominent landmarks on Penang Island. KOMTAR tower was completed in 1988; at the time, it was Asia's third tallest skyscraper.
KOMTAR was named after Malaysia's second Prime Minister, Tun Abdul Razak, who officiated the first piling in 1974. It was the brainchild of the second Chief Minister of Penang, Dr. Lim Chong Eu of the ruling Alliance coalition, to revitalise George Town. This ambitious 11-hectare complex was designed by Singapore's 'Architects Team 3' and divided into five phases.However, traditional shophouses and even entire neighbourhoods had to be demolished for this controversial project; the resulting exodus of the city's population caused the urban area around KOMTAR to be deserted and dilapidated. By 2000s, KOMTAR had failed in its original purpose to revitalise George Town; Penangites saw it as a gigantic white elephant and there were even calls for its destruction.
Despite this, KOMTAR remains in use by the Penang state government and the Penang Island City Council. In 2013, a major renovation project to revive KOMTAR commenced, which included the installation of bubble lifts, the addition of three more levels and the refurbishment of several floors to create high end commercial and recreational space. In 2016, the Rainbow Skywalk, a semi-circular glass walkway, was installed at the peak of the tower and opened to the public in December that year. It is currently the highest glass walkway in Malaysia.
When the Malaysian federal government took away George Town's free port status, the city suffered tremendously from massive unemployment and reduced trading businesses. George Town began to decline economically, while the Malaysian federal government chose to develop Kuala Lumpur and the adjacent Port Klang. To resolve Penang's economic woes, the second Chief Minister of Penang, Dr. Lim Chong Eu, created the Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone at the southeastern part of Penang Island. Although the measures to attract multinational firms to Bayan Lepas successfully turned Penang's economy around, it also accelerated George Town's decline, as the city's population continued to bleed.
Dr. Lim Chong Eu came up with the idea of rejuvenating George Town through a massive project to bring together administrative, transportation and retail activities into a single complex. Thus, the KOMTAR project was conceived and named after the then Malaysian prime minister, Tun Abdul Razak.
KOMTAR was designed by the 'Architects Team 3' of Singapore. The geodesic dome, which was to accompany the proposed KOMTAR Tower, used Buckminster Fuller's design. One of the architects involved in this project was Lim Chong Keat, the younger brother of the Penang Chief Minister.
The project was controversial from the start. Hundreds of shophouses, temples, schools and even entire streets such as Gladstone Road, Carnarvon Circus and the original Cheong Fatt Tze Road, had to make way for KOMTAR. The loss of a substantial part of George Town's colonial-era buildings and economic activities, as well as the ensuing displacement of the city's population, turned KOMTAR's surroundings into a dead town.
Piling works were officially launched by Tun Abdul Razak himself on 1 January 1974.
In 1983, whilst still under construction, a fire broke out at the 43rd. floor of KOMTAR Tower, destroying the floors above. Firemen were unable to douse the flames as it was too high up. The fire eventually burnt out after eight hours. At the time, it was one of the worst high-rise fires in Malaysia.
The first phases were completed by 1986 and the nearby Shangri-La Hotel (now Traders Hotel) was opened. When KOMTAR Tower was topped out, it briefly held the title of Asia's tallest skyscraper, before being outgrown by the Korean Life Insurance Building in Seoul. By the time KOMTAR Tower was launched in 1988, it was the third tallest skyscraper in Asia.
Problems continued for KOMTAR, as the lack of space for buses and taxis for the supposed transportation hub had instead worsened traffic congestion and pollution in George Town. However, KOMTAR had a good start as the premier shopping destination in Penang, with all the upmarket retail outlets under its roof.
During the 1997 Asian financial crisis, both anchor tenants, Yaohan and Super Komtar departmental stores, shut down, marking the start of KOMTAR's decline. In addition, poor maintenance and cleanliness turned away potential tenants. Meanwhile, fierce competition from the several shopping malls throughout Penang Island accelerated its decline. As of 2015, many of the 300-odd shoplots in the lowest four levels of KOMTAR’s six-storey podium block were shuttered, with the remaining pioneer tenants giving up their units.
Furthermore, the KOMTAR project as a whole was never completed. Aside from the completion of the nearby Prangin Mall, 1st. Avenue Mall and Traders Hotel, only the KOMTAR Tower, its podium block and the geodesic dome were ever completed. The sorry state of KOMTAR and its dilapidated surrounding areas lent credence to the notion that Dr. Lim Chong Eu's brainchild has failed to rejuvenate George Town.
After the national opposition parties - the Democratic Action Party (DAP) and the People's Justice Party (PKR) - were voted into power in Penang in 2008, more attention was given to revitalise KOMTAR itself. A new anchor tenant, Pacific Hypermarket, began operations inside the podium block in 2008. The following year, the open-air KOMTAR Walk in front of Pacific's main entrance was opened, featuring 19 food and beverages outlets.
In addition, Popular Book Co., which had shifted its outlet from KOMTAR to Prangin Mall, also returned into KOMTAR in 2010. In the same year, the Penang state government launched the ICT Digital Mall inside KOMTAR, specialising in electronic goods and services. Overhead pedestrian bridges that link the ICT Digital Mall in KOMTAR, 1st. Avenue Mall and Prangin Mall were built to provide safer passage between these three adjacent buildings.
Beginning in 2013, a major renovation project was launched. The project envisioned bubble lifts to bring visitors to a glass canopy at the top of KOMTAR Tower, the addition of three more storeys, and the expansion of some of the existing floors to create more commercial and recreational spaces. The project, which was carried out by the Only World Group, aimed to turn KOMTAR into an integrated tourism destination.
As of August 2016, KOMTAR Walk has been renovated and rebranded, becoming a new shopping precint named The TOP. Pacific Hypermarket has also been taken over as part of The TOP.
In December the same year, Rainbow Skywalk, a U-shaped glass-walkway at the top of KOMTAR Tower, was officially launched. At present, the Rainbow Skywalk is Malaysia's highest glass skywalk, and offers a spectacular open-air view of George Town's cityscape. In addition, the glass was heat-treated, temper-proofed, laminated and is similar as the one used in the Grand Canyon Skywalk in the United States.
Also, the upcoming Penang Transport Master Plan is expected to further boost KOMTAR's role as the transportation hub of George Town. All of the planned LRT, monorail and tram lines on Penang Island are slated to pass through KOMTAR, making KOMTAR the main terminus for all the lines.
Ground level : Pacific Hypermarket, Rapid Penang bus interchange and retail shops
Level 2 : Pacific Hypermarket, Popular bookstore and retail shops
Level 3 : Penang State Gallery, Durian Gallery, ICT Digital Mall, Penang state government and Penang Island City Council service counters, and retail shops
Level 4 : Penang Water Authority office, retail shops, The Top Boutique Aquarium
Levels 5 and 6 : Auditoriums and the Geodesic Dome, which houses Tech Dome Penang
Level 17 : Penang Island City Council main office
Levels 7 - 27 : Penang state government departments and Penang Island City Council offices
Level 28 : Chief Minister's office
Levels 29 - 42 : Penang state government departments
Levels 43 - 51 : Penang state government and Malaysian federal government departments
Levels 52 and 53 : Penang State Executive Councillor offices
Levels 54 - 58 : Penang state government and Malaysian federal government agencies
Levels 59 and 60 : Top View Restaurant and Lounge
Level 65 : Observatory Deck
Level 66 : Gym in the Sky
Level 68 : Rainbow Skywalk, Coco Cabana Bar & Bistro
Dewan Tunku Geodesic Dome
Located on the fifth floor, the partially spherical dome was designed based on a pattern of circles, called geodesics, which intersect to form triangular elements. This design was based on Buckminster Fuller's concept.
The dome now contains Tech Dome Penang, a series of scientific and technological exhibitions which were launched in 2016. The dome is accessible from either the fourth floor or the auditorium.
ICT Digital Mall
The mall, which specialises in electronic goods and services, is managed by Venice Gateway Sdn. Bhd and occupies the former Yaohan Department Store. Among the products offered in the mall are computer hardware and software, smartphones and cameras.
Penang State Government
N.28 Komtar State Assemblyman : Teh Lai Heng (Democratic Action Party)
Malaysian Federal Government
P.049 Tanjong Member of Parliament : Ng Wei Aik (Democratic Action Party)