HK$21.6b 'not enough' if arts hub built now

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 March, 2011, 12:00am

The authority responsible for the West Kowloon arts hub yesterday admitted that the budget of HK$21.6 billion would not be enough to cover the costs if it is built in one go.

The West Kowloon Cultural District Authority said it picked Norman Foster's design even though it knew it was not the cheapest of the three options. But it believed it could stay within budget.

A day after announcing the selection of Foster's design for the cultural hub, Ronald Arculli, the authority's development committee chairman, said on a radio programme the budget of HK$21.6 billion would not be enough if they built everything now.

But Arculli said if the construction work was broken into stages over the years, it would allow the authority to generate returns from investments and keep costs under control. He said the authority would not ask for more funding in the near future.

'Construction costs are on the rise. Industry veterans have reminded us that we need to be extra careful about when to tender the project,' he said.

Arculli remained tight-lipped about the projected costs to execute Foster's design. It will take nine months to prepare a development plan from the design that will be submitted to the Town Planning Board for consideration this year.

Highlights from the two other contenders - Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and Rocco Yim Sen-kee - would be incorporated into Foster's master plan, Arculli said.

Some buildings would be ready by the end of 2015. However, the authority has yet to decide on how to use the vacant land to promote the arts hub until then.

Gregory Wong Chak-yan, a former president of the Hong Kong Institute of Engineers, said he expected costs would be higher by the time the authority began the tender process in one or two years. Other projects such as the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong express rail link and the cruise terminal in Kai Tak would push up labour costs.

Wong deemed it hard to estimate construction costs -dependent on the property market and changes in the macro economy - in five years time. But with some venues finished by then, the authority would be able to make money from ticketing. It would also have assets to borrow loans if necessary, he said.

It would be a challenge for the authority to find a balance between profits and pricing of tickets, he said.

To minimise costs, the authority should invite art veterans - the expected users of the facilities - to look into the designs of individual venues to make sure they were practical, the executive director of art group Zuni Icosahedron, Mathias Woo, said.

'It makes no sense if the venues look pretty but cost too much to maintain,' he said.

While the authority had kick- started hardware development of the hub, it should begin collaboration with art groups to nurture local talents and to develop programmes under its own brand as soon as possible, Connie Lam Suk-yee, the executive director of the Hong Kong Arts Centre, said.

According to Ada Wong Ying-kay, a member of the authority's consultative committee, the authority had already started looking into programming issues.