Wharf cool on rent cut pleas

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 February, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 February, 1998, 12:00am

Canton Road retailers say they have been frustrated in their bid for a 40 per cent cut in rents which they proposed at a meeting with landlord Wharf Holdings yesterday.

A spokesman for some of the more than 300 tenants looking for a rent cut said he was not optimistic the developer would cut rents by even 5 per cent.

'Their response was very straightforward and unbending and they said we had to maintain our contract with them,' said Leon Lam Yat-fu, owner of Lace Lane in the Hong Kong Hotel shopping arcade along Canton Road.

Doreen Lee Yuk-fong, director and general manager of Wharf's leasing agent, Harriman Leasing, said the developer would study the situation faced by their tenants on a case-by-case basis but would not make any promises.

She said they had agreed to meet the tenants in two weeks.

More than 200 retailers, massed in Ocean Terminal prior to the Wharf meeting.

About 35 retailers, supported by The Frontier's Emily Lau Wai-hing, crammed into the Wharf offices in Tsim Sha Tsui for the meeting.

Mr Lam said business for many of the retailers at the demonstration had fallen off by as much as 80 per cent over the past eight months.

'The people who are the worst hit are the ones that have relied on tourist traffic,' he said.

Mr Lam said merchants who sold jewellery and apparel were hit hardest.

Since the handover, the number of big-spending Japanese tourists has fallen by more than 40 per cent.

In addition to the economic turmoil which had seen North Asian arrivals virtually disappear, Mr Lam said tourists were staying away due to the bird flu scare.

The situation is getting so grim for some tenants that they are trying to negotiate their way out of their newly signed leases, he said.

Tenants along Canton Road in the Wharf portfolio are paying anywhere from $150 to $300 per square foot for their space, according to retailers.

According to Mr Lam, Wharf's showed a poor attitude during the meeting.

Instead of agreeing to a rent cut they told retailers that they would try to increase the numbers of shoppers in the malls through more promotions.

'We made our position clear,' said Harriman's Ms Lee, 'but they were reluctant to hear it'.

Ms Lee said while Wharf was sympathetic to the plight of the retailers it did not want to set a precedent by opening up the retailers' contracts.

'We respect our obligations on the contracts that we sign,' she said.




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