Two-year delay for arts hub Arts hub progress depends on 'financing options'
Joyce Ng and Vivienne Chow
Rising costs and a construction conflict will delay the completion of major facilities at the West Kowloon arts hub by at least two years, according to a revised design unveiled yesterday.
The delay of the HK$21.6 billion project is due in part to the construction of the cross-border high-speed railway, a terminal for which will occupy part of the arts hub site, the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority said.
Authority chief executive Michael Lynch said it was too early to specify the cost increase the project was facing, but that the 'revised phasing' announced yesterday was one way to deal with it. 'We are in dialogue with the government at the moment about serious issues in regard to contributions the government will be making to infrastructure costs and the green initiatives,' he said. A bond issue was one financing option under consideration, he said.
According to the original timetable recommended by the government when it sought funding from the legislature in 2008, 12 performing arts venues would be completed by 2015 in the project's first phase.
However, the new schedule released yesterday promises that only part of the 5,000-tree park, an outdoor theatre, an arts pavilion and a Cantonese opera centre will be finished by that year.
Three black-box theatres will be postponed until 2017, subject to progress on the high-speed rail project's West Kowloon terminal.
The completion dates of at least nine venues, including the flagship art museum M+, two theatres, a concert hall, a recital hall, a musical theatre, a mega performance venue and an exhibition centre, will be delayed to between 2017 and 2020.
The progress in building those last three venues will depend on their securing 'alternative funding options'. Only the second phase of M+ and another large theatre will remain on the old schedule, to be delivered after 2020.
Referring to the construction conflict, an authority spokesman said: 'Some of the sites will be occupied by the construction of the express rail link and we will not be able to take them back till 2012/2013.'
Arts hub board member Allan Zeman said the rail project was a 'necessary evil'. But he added that the new schedule was realistic: 'The building of the [big park] before the arts venue will meet the public's expectations. People can go there first, and performances can also start there [in the outdoor space].'
The revised master layout plan, designed by British architect Norman Foster, has incorporated a few elements from two earlier rival design teams, including two piers for water-taxis and ferries to improve accessibility, and a floating platform for performances.
New elements include a Chinese cultural centre with a market and a literature museum to be built near Canton Road, and three plazas to create open spaces amid the cluster of buildings.
Asked whether he was concerned that the costs would compromise his design, Foster said: 'It is a quest for quality. All of [the elements] are part of the project and budget.
'It is a complete integration of work, play, education, for browsing and shopping ... It will not be compromised. The plan is a big picture and it is already accepted.'
The architect said he had made some of the buildings more compact, so that they could share common facilities like restaurants, helping to save costs.
The restructured phasing and timetable has drawn mixed reactions from some artists. Although pleased that their suggestions had been taken into account in the final plan, they were anxious about the delay in implementation.
The Hong Kong Arts Centre's executive director, Connie Lam, said: 'What the authority should do next is to work on the software [cultural content] and the interim programming ... If there are programmes that can make an impact now, they can keep up the momentum.'
Art critic Mathias Woo said he was worried that the relaxed timetable would increase uncertainties in future.
Lee Wing-tat, a Democratic Party lawmaker and member of the authority's consultation panel, said he understood from management why the bigger venues were pushed back to a later stage.
The museum's free admission would not generate income and the mega performance venues were too big for local troupes.
'The revised phasing is a delay and will amount to a scaling down of the arts hub. The current plan is different from the West Kowloon we envisaged in the past. It is smaller though more realistic,' said Lee.
The latest design will have a one-month public consultation, then go to the Town Planning Board for approval.