$100m to turn tenement into testament to culture

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 April, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 April, 2006, 12:00am

Wan Chai heritage spot will be based on themes of medicine and tea

A $100 million project to transform the 80-year-old Blue House in Wan Chai and adjacent tenement blocks into a tourist attraction with the theme of tea and medicine was unveiled yesterday.

The project, a joint effort between the Housing Society and the Urban Renewal Authority, will preserve the collective memory of the community, the society's planning and development manager, Daniel Lau King-shing, said.

The project area covers a total of nine tenement blocks.

The Housing Society proposes to retain the eight 1920s buildings along Stone Nullah Lane and Hing Wan Street, and demolish a 1950s building on King Sing Street for open space.

An application will be filed with the Town Planning Board for approval, and the project will start next year at the earliest if approved.

A total of 30 households will be affected, and the cost of acquisition and rehousing is estimated to be about $20 million.

Mr Lau said the project's rare architectural elements and features of tea and medicine would attract tourists.

The Housing Society will be responsible for managing the buildings, the use of which has yet to be decided, according to its spokeswoman.

'We are prepared to lose some money over the project - our main purpose is to preserve the area as part of our cultural heritage,' Mr Lau said.

The Blue House, listed as a Grade I Historical Building by the Antiquities Advisory Board, is one of the few remaining balcony-type tenement blocks in Hong Kong.

It was built in the mid-1920s to replace Wah To Hospital, the first hospital in Wan Chai to provide Chinese medical services to local Chinese that was built in 1872.

Featuring European art deco style, 2-8 Hing Wan Street is listed as a Grade II Historical Building. The street has long been a hub for small shops selling tea.

Mr Lau said they were inviting views from residents, district councillors, non-government organisations and professionals on the future of the redeveloped area.

Welfare agency St James' Settlement has already applied to the Lands Department for permission to open a 'Wan Chai livelihood museum' in a vacant unit on the ground floor of the Blue House.

Laurence Lam Kwok-wai, a senior official with St James' Settlement, said the proposal would probably be approved within a few months.

The agency has already collected more than 400 old items donated by current and former residents for display in the museum.

'The museum could open within the next few months before the redevelopment plan is carried out,' Mr Lam said.

'We may have to move out once the building is taken over for redevelopment. But we are nonetheless happy with the project because it also seeks to preserve the history, culture and community spirit of Wan Chai, though in some other different ways.'