Kowloon shophouses saved as part of preservation plan

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 September, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 September, 2008, 12:00am

Residents to be moved as buildings become galleries, cafes

Two clusters of historic shophouses in West Kowloon are set to escape demolition - one group of buildings will be preserved for florists and artists, and the other will offer affordable dining in a bid to encourage people to visit the area.

The Urban Renewal Authority yesterday announced its largest heritage conservation plan, which covers 20 blocks of pre-war shophouses on Shanghai Street in Mong Kok and on Prince Edward Road East. No buildings will be torn down.

The project, costing HK$1.33 billion, is part of the authority's initiative to conserve 48 shophouses across Hong Kong.

One-tenth of the sum will be set aside for renovation, and the rest will be spent on acquiring the 73 property interests involved.

The shophouses, built in the 1920s and 1930s, share architectural features such as a long veranda linking the blocks, balconies and geometric patterns on the facade.

Shanghai Street's 10 shophouses have been occupied by shops on the ground floor and residents upstairs, typical of an old commercial street. They are Grade 1 historic buildings. The authority says it is open to any options for how they will be used, while its chairman, Barry Cheung Chun-yuen, suggested that cheap eating places could be a good idea.

The Wo Cheong Pawn Shop, a preservation project in Wan Chai that now houses an art gallery and serves gourmet food, has drawn criticism that it is too expensive a restaurant for most people.

The authority has learned a lesson. 'We are concerned about criticisms of Wo Cheong Pawn Shop. This time, we hope the public will be able to enjoy using the verandas,' Mr Cheung said.

The 180 residents would be relocated, Mr Cheung said, because of 'appalling' living conditions. 'Some flats have no toilets and there are no residential amenities. It is hard to turn them into residential use.'

Four blocks built in 1960 will be altered to house lifts and fire escapes and offer disabled access.

The cluster on Prince Edward Road East, forming part of a flower market, will remain.

'We do not wish to disrupt the thriving flower trade there. We hope the seven flower shops can stay,' Mr Cheung added.

These shophouses were built by a Belgian construction company. They were marketed as 'modern homes' and targeted at middle-class buyers.

Mr Cheung said the authority would not set 'unreasonable' rent levels that would chase the florists away. 'We do not expect to recover our development costs at all. The rents will only be used to sustain future operations.'

As for the shops upstairs, the authority plans to reserve them for the arts community, such as for bookstores and dance studios.

That project is expected to be completed by 2014, and the Shanghai Street project one year later.

The authority will consult the public about the plan in the coming months, after which it will submit a development plan to the Town Planning Board for approval.