District office to take over night market

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 December, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 December, 2003, 12:00am

The Sheung Wan bazaar's missing managers allegedly owe $2.1m in rent

The Central and Western District Office will take over the Sheung Wan waterfront bazaar, based on the popular Poor Man's Nightclub, after the private contractor running the project failed to pay rent and disappeared.

Sheung Wan Gala Point, set up by the government in October last year, had been touted as an economic revival project.

The government now alleges that Supermedia Exhibition Limited, which had a contract to manage the night market - popularly known as dai tat dei, or big square - until next July, has not paid rent since April, worth $2.1 million.

The company is also accused of failing to promote the market, based on the Poor Man's Nightclub, a popular Sheung Wan flea market that had its heyday in the 1970s and was shut in 1992. The concept was revived by former financial secretary Antony Leung Kam-chung last year under an initiative to revive the economy at the community level.

The government yesterday said it could not track down Supermedia's owners and it had launched legal proceedings against the firm. Central and Western District officer Paul Wong Po-wah yesterday announced his office would run the 6,380-square-metre market between December 11 and February 1. Afterwards, the site will be returned to the Lands Department, pending a decision by the new district council to determine the market's fate.

The market last night was a far cry from when it opened last year, attracting 90,000 visitors a day and with almost all of its 108 stalls occupied. There are now 70 vacancies - and few customers to go around.

Customer Tong Wai-keung, who visits the market every two weeks for a meal, said he liked its recent 'tranquility' - but he accused the government of failing to promote and redevelop the site properly. 'Hong Kong does not seem to have any town planning at all,' he said. 'A lot of areas like this one become wasted.'

Fellow diner Debby Ching, making her second visit to the market, said she felt sorry for the stallholders. At 10pm, hers was one of only four or five tables that were occupied out of dozens in the market's dining area.

District officer Mr Wong criticised the Lands Department, which selected Supermedia, for putting too much emphasis on the bidding price in the tendering process instead of factors such as experience, creativity and manpower. 'Our disappointment is that the government has handed over the management and operation to a private company but it failed to complete its contractual term,' he said.

Vacant sites will be made available for short-term business while the district office manages the market. But Mr Wong estimated that taxpayers would still have to pay about $300,000 to cover management costs, even if all the vacant stalls were rented out.

Snack stall owner Wong Yuen-nui said he had gone from making profits of $8,000 a day last year to losses of $5,000 a month. Fellow stall owner, Lee Wah-tong, said: 'It will be difficult to recover our business losses, even over Christmas.'