Pattaya’s nightlife industry has survived AIDS, military coups, bloody street riots, bird flu, 2004’s tsunami, 9/11, historic floods and the Great Recession, but it has never had to overcome the challenge posed by the coronavirus pandemic. Perhaps that’s why Pattaya is looking harder than ever for an alternative for Walking Street.

Suggestions to tear down the go-go and beer bars and make Walking Street a family-friendly destination have come and gone over the years – most recently in 2016 – but city hall has this time brought in two developers who this week presented two master-plan ideas for South Pattaya that could be bankrolled by the government’s Eastern Economic Corridor project.

Illustrated with 3D renderings, the proposals would see the current Walking Street bulldozed and extended via landfill out into Pattaya Bay. A waterfront park complete with a giant Ferris wheel would offer a seafront view to restaurants, an outdoor shopping arcade and exercise facilities.

At the southern end would lie a huge new cruise ship terminal – made possible only by the massive dredging used to construct Walking Street’s man-made peninsula – and a rail terminal connecting a high-speed train to U-Tapao-Rayong-Pattaya Airport and the city’s new elevated light rain system or monorail.

No price tags were attached to the projects, but the skytrain project is already under way, as is the high-speed rail. It’s simply a matter of whether Pattaya has the political and financial will to change gears.

It’s not like the city hasn’t tried before.

For more than 25 years, well-connected Walking Street property owners  – think police and members of the Kunplome Chonburi mafia that has run the province for decades – have been told their buildings on the water-side of Walking Street illegally sit on public beachfront and must be demolished.

In December 2016, city hall put forth a similar proposal to redevelop half of Walking Street into a public park. But the 101 property owners scuttled the plan, dumping rafts of documents they claimed were legal property and land deeds and daring Pattaya to authenticate them.

The proposal died there. It was familiar ending.

As early as 1988, consultant Japan International Cooperation Agency determined that all the structures were encroaching on public land and should be demolished. A royal decree on land expropriation issued on April 17, 2014 confirmed the findings of the 1998 JICA report.

In May 2015, then- (and now-) Deputy Mayor Ronakit Ekasingh said 12 Walking Street buildings had been ordered demolished for illegally extending their properties. The property owners were given a chance to appeal and the order was never mentioned again.

Not only has Pattaya repeatedly failed to demolish the bars that respectable Pattaya – at least those not lining their pockets from them – would love to seen gone, the same property owners have used their immunity to avoid paying to help the city improve the area.

In 2017, the city came to the property owners with orders to fix their plumbing so toilets and sinks don’t dump directly into the bay. They were cited by the military for improper wastewater management and told to fix it themselves or get billed by the city.

A September 2017 meeting between the 101 business operators and the Pattaya Sanitation Department broke down in shouting and arguing that prevented anything from being decided.

Pattaya paid 31.5 million baht for work under public streets while businesses were expected to pick up the tab to install “hanger supports” spaced out about every five buildings. Each support would connect sewage pipes to a pit that can hold up to 1,500 liters of wastewater. There sewage will then be preprocessed before being sent to the city’s main treatment plant.

But property owners asked why they should pay for it if the city planned to demolish their buildings anyway.

Of course, they knew demolition was unlikely then – or ever – to occur, so the argument was simply a stalking horse. But it worked then, and will probably work now.