Front of old shophouse saved in hotel development

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 May, 2011, 12:00am


A developer will preserve part of a 74-year-old shophouse in Mong Kok after being offered an incentive by the government.

The front portion of the grade-three historical building at 179 Prince Edward Road West, built by a top manager of the China Motor Bus Company, will remain while a 13-storey hotel rises behind it.

The preservation was made possible when the government said it would relax plot ratio restrictions on the site, allowing a slightly more intensive development.

Edwin Leong Siu-hung, chairman of developer Tai Hung Fai Enterprise Company, said he had been looking at demolition in 2007, but changed his mind after the government approached him with the incentive.

'It would be a pity to see the whole building disappear and be replaced by a concrete block. So we decided to do something for the Mong Kok district, where we've had a long-term investment history,' Leong said.

Government officials called the decision a success. But a leading conservationist lamented that preserving only the facade appeared to have become the norm for grade-three buildings, the lowest level on the heritage register, which have no legal protection from demolition.

Leong said construction of an ordinary 50-room hotel on the 250 square metre site would have cost in the tens of millions of dollars but the preservation work would double the sum to about HK$120 million.

As a condition for approval for the project, the second floor of the shophouse will be open to the public free as an exhibition gallery, featuring old photographs of the building and Prince Edward Road. The other two floors will be restaurants.

The shophouse and one next door were built by Wong Yiu-nam, whose father Wong Wong-choi was a co-founder of the bus company.

Along with 10 shophouses across the road being conserved by the Urban Renewal Authority, they are the few remaining examples of middle-class residences built in Prince Edward Road in 1925, between richer Kowloon Tong and working-class Sham Shui Po.

Built in art deco style, they contain features such as a veranda, balconies, curved corners, pediments and a timber staircase.

Leong said it would have been better if his company had been able to buy the neighbouring shophouse from owner Kwai Hung Realty, which carried out its own renovation.

'We offered to buy it several times but in vain,' Leong said. Kwai Hung could not be reached for comment.

Conservancy Association campaign manager Peter Li Siu-man said grade-three buildings were always a headache for conservationists.

'Given this case and the example of the Wan Chai Market, it seems it has become a norm that keeping the facade is enough for a grade-three. But it shouldn't be the case. Total preservation and renovation could also enhance the rental value of a historic building,' he said.

A better example was 190 Nathan Road in Jordan, a grade-three shophouse preserved and renovated as a luxury mall, Li said.