Harbour City fast becoming a major commercial force
When the Hongkong and Kowloon Wharf and Godown first opened in Kowloon in 1886, it was a world apart from Hong Kong Island. Colonial Hong Kong rarely ventured across Victoria Harbour.
A stone's throw from the KCR railway terminus, on appropriately named Canton Road, the godown, operated by The Wharf (Holdings), was the bridgehead to the mainland, and was regarded warily.
Wharf still owns and runs the former dockside warehouse now known as Harbour City. And as Hong Kong's ties with the mainland become increasingly interlinked, Kowloon's premier office address is becoming a major commercial force.
There is 4.35 million sqft of office space in the 10 blocks of Tower 1, Tower 2, Tower 6, Prudential Tower and Sun Life Tower of The Gateway which are international grade-A offices, along with Ocean Centre, World Finance Centre (North and South Towers), Wharf T & T Centre and World Commercial Centre, which are best known as a base for fashion houses, garment traders, buying offices and toymakers.
But increasingly, Harbour City has emerged as a viable, even desirable alternative to Central and Hong Kong Island. There has been a notable demographic shift as it attracts tenants that were previously focused on the other side of the harbour, including multinational corporations, banks, finance houses, airlines and professional firms.
'Kowloon and Tsim Sha Tsui in particular have gained tremendously in popularity,' said Dave Siu Wing-koon, general manager (office leasing) at Harbour City Estates, the Wharf Group subsidiary which runs the development. 'Potential tenants are realising that Kowloon offers much better value for money than Hong Kong Island. There are substantial rental differentials between Central and TST. As a bonus, the view from this side of the harbour is also much better.'
A glance at the list of high-profile new tenancies underlines the trend. Banks include Citibank, HSBC, Bank of China, Land Bank of Taiwan, Chang Hwa Commercial Bank, Mega International Commercial Bank, Mizuho Corporate Bank, China Construction Bank (Asia), E.Sun Commercial Bank, Taiwan Business Bank and Mitsubishi UFJTrust and Banking Corporation. Interest from airlines is taking off, with JAL, Cathay Pacific, United Airlines, All Nippon Airways and Asiana all aboard.
Along with insurance giants AIA, Prudential, Sun Life and Zurich are logistics leaders NYK, APL and Hyundai. Japanese corporations include Fenix, City'super, NYK, Hitachi, Fujifilm, Fujitsu, Sanyo and JTB.
'The TST and West Kowloon area might become the 'second Central' for office leasing,' said Mr Siu. 'More and more former Central and Admiralty office occupiers are seeking quality relocation and expansion options here. They realise TST is a good substitute for Central, where premium office space is out of stock.'
Office space ranging from 500 to 50,000 sqft provides a high degree of flexibility in layout design, accommodating different requirements for a multitude of tenants, and offering ample potential for expansion and growth.
Location is critical, and Harbour City's geographic advantage as a bridgehead is these days more enviable than ever. Besides close proximity to the MTR, buses and the Star Ferry, it is a five-minute drive to the Airport Express Kowloon Station, and next door to the ferry terminal for jetfoils to the mainland and Macau.
Within a pleasant 10-minute ferry ride are both Central and the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.
The complex is further complemented by the largest shopping centre in Hong Kong, with 600 shops, dining and entertainment outlets including City'super, brand-name fashion outlets, the largest Toys 'R' Us in Hong Kong, two cinemas, three hotels and 2,000 parking spaces.
Five hundred deluxe apartments provided by Gateway Apartments consistently rank among the finest serviced apartments in Hong Kong, offering 'the perfect accommodation solution for the senior executives and expatriates working in our offices', noted Mr Siu. The exclusive 200,000 sqft Pacific Club with health, spa, dining and business facilities is an additional attraction.
At first glance, the development of West Kowloon with giant complexes at ICC and Union Square might appear like competition. But Mr Siu has witnessed the opposite.
'The ICC and Union Square developments have been extremely positive to further enhance the office and residential status of Kowloon, and Tsim Sha Tsui in particular,' said Mr Siu.
'We saw the developments create new demand for offices and accommodation in the area, and benefit Harbour City greatly. They helped to attract multinational financial and professional firms. In fact, we keep enhancing the value of the property with renovations for office main entrances, lobbies, lifts, toilets and common corridors,' he said.
More than HK$100 million has been spent on refurbishment, which extends to lobby furnishing and decoration to 'provide a pleasant and classy environment'.
With management officially acclaimed for quality issues such as indoor air and water, Harbour City is 'staying ahead of the competition', he said. And the next phase of renovation is already being planned.
'We are promoting Harbour City as the best corporate address in Kowloon, and with our continuous efforts in upgrading the facilities and service standards in the complex, we trust that we are ready to meet any challenges and are able to maintain our leading position in the market.'