Tobu Railway Aims High With Sky Tree Project

TOKYO (Nikkei)–Tobu Railway Co. continues to build the 610-meter Tokyo Sky Tree tower and redevelop the surrounding neighborhood, aiming to attract domestic and foreign tourists with this combination of altitude and atmosphere.

The new broadcasting tower, which will be the tallest structure in Japan ahead of Tokyo Tower, is slated to open in spring 2012.

The structure is rising in Sumida Ward on Tobu Railway’s 37,000 sq. meter site, which used to house a loading yard. The company plans to construct a hotel and other commercial facilities on the land, making the area a sightseeing hot spot in cooperation with such partners as the local tourist association.

The tower, which has been under construction since July 2008, is already attracting more than 100 eager gawkers on some holidays.

The Tobu Railway group will spend about 65 billion yen to build the tower, which will be roughly 610m tall — 80% higher than the 333-meter Tokyo Tower. The two observation decks at 350 and 450 meters will command breathtaking panoramic views of Tokyo, according to company officials. Tobu Railway expects 5.4 million visitors to the tower in the first year.

Sprucing up the neighborhood

A graphic image of the Tokyo Sky Tree tower. The tower is slated to open in spring 2012.

The company is redeveloping the surrounding area in a bid to enhance the tower’s appeal. Some 70 billion yen will be invested to build a commercial complex on a 400m-long site strung between two rail stations. Altogether, these facilities and the tower will have floor space of around 230,000 sq. meters. Among the expected tenants are restaurants, stores, a museum, a multipurpose hall, a school and the hotel. The tallest building will be 32 stories.

The site will also feature an open square, designed to entice visitors to sit down and stay awhile.

Tobu Railway expects the tower and the adjacent facilities to generate around 3.7 billion yen in annual operating profit five years after the opening.

Sumida Ward retains much of the traditional atmosphere of a “shitamachi” district, those areas situated below the walls of the castle in the days of old.

According to Takaaki Abe, director of the Visit Sumida tourism office, the spot is rich in sightseeing gems, similar to Kyoto. For example, there is Mukojima, a former red-light district; Ryogoku Kokugikan, where sumo tournaments are held; shops that sell traditional crafts; and the Edo-Tokyo Museum, which features displays related to the time before the Meiji Restoration.

Abe expects Tokyo Sky Tree to anchor the local tourism action, saying that more visitors coming from outside Sumida Ward will help invigorate the area.

Access from international airports is to be improved. A new rail line will by spring 2010 link Narita airport in as little as 36 minutes to Nippori, Tokyo; as such, the tower-convenient Oshiage Station will be connected to Narita and Haneda airports. Taxi stands and bus stops will be set up near the tower to bring foreigners directly to the tower.

–Translated from an article by Nikkei staff writer Hideki Hayashi

(The Nikkei Business Daily June 24 edition)

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