Phnom Penh’s iconic White Building has been condemned and must be demolished, municipal Governor Pa Socheatvong said Tuesday.
The Sothearos Boulevard apartment block, which was built under Prince Sihanouk in 1963 and has flourished into a community of artists and civil servants, is no longer safe for residents, Mr. Socheatvong said, meaning that some 600 families will need to find new homes.
“The most important thing is that the building is condemned,” the governor said. “How can we not knock it down? The time has come for us to knock it down.”
Mr. Socheatvong gave no timeline for the demolition but said the safety of the residents was already in jeopardy due to the state of the building.
City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said the building, which has 468 apartments and stretches across two villages in Tonle Bassac commune, is structurally unsound. He said inspectors from the municipal department of land management and urban planning had carried out an inspection of the building and judged that it was no longer safe to live in.
“City Hall has informed the people that their homes are corrupted and that they are in danger,” Mr. Dimanche said, before referring further questions to the municipal building inspectors.
Chea Srun, director of the municipal department that conducted the inspection of the building, could not be reached. Mr. Srun’s deputy, Sok Cheng, declined to comment.
Last week, residents and social workers inside the building said that 7NG, the development company that owns 3.9 hectares of adjacent land, was buying up apartments one at a time.
Contacted Tuesday, 7NG director Srey Chanthou said his company was “not interested in buying the White Building or the land” on which it stands.
However, Mr. Socheatvong said that another development giant, the Overseas Cambodian Investment Corporation (OCIC), parent company of Canadia Bank and builder of Koh Pich island, would be part of the relocation process.
The governor explained that he was negotiating to move White Building residents to Chroy Changva district, where OCIC is building an apartment block and market that evictees from other Phnom Penh development sites have already agreed to move to.
“I am working on this,” he said. “We don’t know whether [OCIC] will build homes in exchange for this building or not. There is no positive response yet.”
“Let’s wait for us to talk with the people and reach an agreement,” he said.
Touch Samnang, project manager for OCIC, said that his company would assist City Hall in the relocation of the White Building’s residents.
He said his company had advised the municipality that it would consider a deal in which apartments it built in Chroy Changva would be provided to the White Building’s evictees.
“We built it to sell, but when we heard that City Hall was worried about the White Building, we made the suggestion,” Mr. Samnang said.
At the White Building on Tuesday, some residents said they had not heard of the municipality’s plan to demolish their homes. They also said they had no intention of being bullied out of their community by City Hall or any private company.
“We will never go down and move out because most residents are civil servants,” said Leap Kanitha, 44.
The former actress, a building resident since 1981, said she had not seen or heard of any visit from inspectors. As far as she was concerned, the structure was safe and sound.
“It remains firm,” she said. “If you take a hammer and hit the building, you will see sparks fly.”