Renovation turns abattoir into hip entertainment hub 1933 Shanghai

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 August, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 August, 2010, 12:00am

A decade ago when he started out as an information technology executive in Shanghai, Rick Yan Wing-fai's involvement with real estate would be limited to the annual search for a better apartment on receiving the year-end bonus.

The 40-year-old Hongkonger has since graduated to breathing life into dead slaughterhouses. Among the new breed of developers who revive old buildings and complexes as stylist offices, art and entertainment space, Yan is now working to transform Shanghai's biggest abattoir, 77 years old and deserted since 2002, into a trendy cultural and entertainment hub a la Tokyo's Roppongi Hills.

His involvement with the project, christened '1933 Shanghai' after the slaughterhouse that was completed in 1933, began when his friend won the management contract in 2007 and asked him to be a partner. 'I agreed as it sounded interesting,' Yan said.

As chairman of Axons Concepts, he took a 10 per cent stake in the firm, which was set up to manage the project. As the global financial crisis hit in 2008, curbing fund-raising, he took a bigger stake and eventually became the majority owner.

At its gory peak, some 1,200 cattle, pigs and sheep would be killed every day at the abattoir, which supplied the city with 130 tonnes of meat daily. Designed by an English architect, it was closed in 1958 and turned first into a factory for processing frozen food and then for making medicine.

The art deco property has been rusting away since 2002, when the Great Wall Biochemical Pharmaceutical Factory was mothballed. In 2006, the municipal government declared the building among the top historical sites and a consortium comprising Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp and Shanghai Creative Industry Centre was asked to renovate the property with a 80 million yuan (HK$91.34 million) budget.

In 2007, Axons won the contract to manage and convert the 30,000-square metre, five-level labyrinthine building into an art and entertainment hub.

Yan said the massive renovation of the Bund area and road construction before the World Expo in Shanghai had for some time rendered 1933 Shanghai, located at the northern end of the Bund, nearly inaccessible. 'Before the roadwork, it was only a 10-minute drive from the Bund.' Traffic returned to normal only in April, a month before the World Expo started. Visitor arrivals have now doubled to 10,000 on weekends compared to early this year.

'The history and the unique architecture is our main drawcard. Given the small size of the property, we can't compete with conventional shopping malls on Nanjing Road and Huai Hai Road,' he said.

The project originally started offering office space for lease to cultural establishments. 'As the office market was dipping at the time because of the financial crisis, we decided to reposition the property as an upmarket cultural and entertainment hub.'

Many foreign tourists come here just to drink in the spectacular architecture, he said, adding that 1933 Shanghai would also eventually host conventions and exhibitions.

Tenants range from coffee shops, fancy restaurants and cigar lounges to art galleries and souvenir shops. The glass-floor theatre on the top floor can seat 500 people.

'I have found a new interest in art and cultural activities, which now fascinate me more than real estate,' Yan said.