Dragon-i retreats from public space

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 September, 2011, 12:00am


Dragon-i, the upmarket restaurant and club in trendy Wyndham Street, Central, has removed its tables and chairs from public open space it had been occupying.

It cleared the area on Thursday, just over a week after its landlord received a government notice to do so, in a move that refocused attention on commercial use of public space.

But one district councillor says that is not enough and that the club should also pay for any income earned in the communal area.

The tables, in an area on the first floor of The Centrium at 60 Wyndham Street that is clearly marked as being for public use, were removed on Thursday morning, but it was not clear if the action was in response to the government order. Asked yesterday why the furniture had been moved, one staff member of the nine-year-old club said it was because the floor needed repairing. Others said it was because of 'management problems'.

A manager on the evening shift refused to say if Dragon-i had been ordered to do so by the building's owner, Sino Group, which received a letter from the district lands office on September 7 ordering it to clear the space and cease all commercial activity in it.

Before their removal, the tables were laid with Dragon-i crockery and cutlery during the restaurant's opening hours and all bore a plaque saying customers would have to fetch their orders themselves.

Nevertheless, the South China Morning Post observed on Wednesday that customers were being served at the tables, although staff said the tables were available to all, not just customers.

A man attending a yoga class in the building said he was not aware that the outside tables were open to anyone.

A worker from a nearby building said: 'You wouldn't know that you can sit there. And I wouldn't even if I did - it'd be kind of awkward.'

Several clearly visible signs are displayed notifying that the space is available free 24 hours a day.

'As you might have noticed, clear signs have been put up at various locations in the aforesaid open space, indicating that the space has been designated for the enjoyment of the public,' Sino Group senior manager of corporate communications Betty Wong said.

The Lands Department has not said whether it will ask Dragon-i to pay for its past commercial use of the space.

Only 10 per cent of public space in buildings can be used for commercial activity and permission for it must be obtained from the lands and buildings departments. Approval must also be obtained from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department for outdoor restaurant seating.

Central and Western district councillor Kam Nai-wai said that if Dragon-i wanted alfresco dining, it had to organise a public consultation and seek the district council's opinion, as well as obtaining permission from the administration.

'This is so a restaurant will not just expand without limits,' he said.

In 2008, Times Square and The Wharf group were involved in a legal row with the government over charging up to HK$124,000 a day for space in the Causeway Bay mall's piazza.

District councillor Tanya Chan said Dragon-i should pay compensation for the money earned on public property, but it would be complicated to calculate the amount. She suggested the compensation should be based on the restaurant's revenue.

According to official figures, there were 59 public spaces in private properties in the Central and Western district.