Options limited by history
The site of St John's Cathedral was one of the first pieces of land in Hong Kong granted by the British crown in early 1840s.
The Dean of St John's Cathedral, Father Christopher Phillips, said the land was granted free of charge but the Catholic church had spent GBP8,000, a large sum then, to complete the Gothic-style cathedral by 1849.
The cathedral stands on an area known previously as Government Hill, with the Central Government Offices, Government House and the French Mission Building, now used as Court of Final Appeal, in the vicinity.
Analysts said given the scarcity of land for development in core Central, it was not surprising for developers to eye the cathedral site's untapped potential.
Government officials said there was no height restriction on the site, which could claim a plot ratio of 15. This meant it could yield a floor area of more than 870,000 sq ft if converted into commercial use.
But the need to preserve the declared monuments of St John's Cathedral posed an obstacle to any extensive redevelopment, analysts said.
They said developers might have to pin their hopes on a proposed government scheme for the transfer of development rights to encourage owners to preserve old buildings with unique cultural, historical or architectural characteristics.
The scheme would allow owners to transfer the unused development rights of their historical buildings to other less culturally important sites.
Meanwhile, the Central Government Offices and nearby Murray Building, which have a combined site area of 2.43 hectares, may also be converted for commercial development once the government relocates its operations to its new headquarters on the Tamar Basin site.