Celebrating in style

Plans for rejuvenation project shock locals by its sheer scale

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 November, 2012, 9:42am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 November, 2012, 9:43am

When Wuhan officials began contemplating marking the centennial of the 1911 Xinhai Revolution, they decided to do so in style. The celebration included a redevelopment of the area between the City's East Lake and Shahu Lake, transforming the site into "a landmark project whose opening would coincide with this date", according to Steven McCord, the Shanghai-based local director of research for Jones Lang LaSalle.

"When the plan came out, people were shocked by the scale," recalls Du Jinsong, the head of China property research at Credit Suisse Group AG, who attended college in Wuhan. A key part of the project is the Chu River and Han Street development, which includes a 1.5km-long outdoor pedestrian mall alongside the newly-created Chu River, a canal that now links the two lakes.

The area is a far cry from its previous incarnation as "a dormitory housing area for a heavy machinery factory plant," Du says. Early stages of the project involved resettling more than 13,000 households.

The project is part of a larger initiative in which "local planners, including the Wuhan Planning and Development Institute, have been shifting development from Hankou to Wuchang in the last few years," says Daan Roggeveen, a Shanghai-based architect.

In addition to retail outlets, the street includes the Han Show Theatre, a movie culture park and what is billed as the largest cinema in China, with 15 screens and 3,000 seats. Han Street also stands out for its architecture, which includes an approximation of European architecture that might have existed a century ago.

The area is still a work in progress and construction continues on the office and residential space that will eventually complement the retail area. Because of the unfinished construction and the fact that the street has been open less than a year, the jury is still out on whether the project has been a success. Early positive reviews from consumers come partially because China's growing middle class "is looking for places where they can hang out that have a nostalgic feel" with modern amenities, Roggeveen says.

Mid-term success will hinge on consumer retail demand, with Du forecasting that "Wuhan in the next 24 months should still see 15 to 20 per cent growth in terms of retail consumption".