Owners free to build tower on site of historic homes

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 March, 2011, 12:00am

A prominent Hong Kong family has won approval from the Buildings Department to redevelop a pair of historic Chinese-style buildings in Mid-Levels.

The company Wonderful Path, owned by former stock exchange chairman Ronald Li Fook-shiu and his family, plans to build a 25-storey apartment block with recreational facilities on the site - 6 and 8 Kennedy Road.

The buildings were given a grade-two historical rating, which does not prevent demolition, last year.

But heritage officials have persuaded the owners to agree to preserve important features such as the facade.

'[We] have followed up with the owner on preservation options and obtained the owner's agreement to preserve all character-defining elements of the building in the new design of the development,' the Commissioner for Heritage's Office said.

'We consider this an appropriate balance between heritage conservation and respect for private property rights.'

The development comes a year after the Antiquities Advisory Board rejected a request from the owners to downgrade the rating of the four- storey blocks from two to three.

Board members said the neoclassical architecture was a landmark and a reflection of the life of a well-to-do business family living in Mid-Levels in the past century.

The blocks were built in 1927 and 1935 by philanthropist Li Koon-chun, a founder of the Bank of East Asia, for his family, but the owners said the buildings were not their core residence.

Three of Li's sons, including Ronald Li and Simon Li Fook-sean, who ran in the first election for chief executive after the handover in 1997, and his grandsons, Bank of East Asia chairman David Li Kwok-po and his brother Arthur Li Kwok-cheung, now jointly own the buildings through their companies.

Lands records show the transfer of ownership from under their names to their companies last year involved HK$900 million.

A person familiar with the project said the facades of the blocks were to be kept.

Antiquities Advisory Board member Dr Lee Ho-yin said preserving the facade would be 'weird but the only approach' for officials.

'Grade two or three does not make any difference under the existing system,' Lee said. 'But keeping the facade is an outdated approach to heritage conservation internationally. This was thought to be good practice 20 years ago.'

A better way, he said, would be to restore the building and give it a new use, although the value would not compare to a denser redevelopment.