Tycoon bets big on Tonnochy

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 November, 2011, 12:00am


Entertainment tycoon Steven Lo Kit-sing aims to draw customers from Hong Kong's top entertainment district, Lan Kwai Fong, with a renovated nightclub building on the fringes of Wan Chai and Causeway Bay - but Lan Kwai Fong godfather Allan Zeman isn't shaking in his shoes.

Lo says he has turned the Tonnochy Tower, former home to one of the best-known nightclubs on Hong Kong Island, into a one-stop shop for all forms of entertainment.

Dubbed 'The Tonno', the three-storey, 3,345 square metre centre will open on Thursday with a pub, club, live-band bar, restaurant and karaoke box replete with 31 rooms.

'Hong Kong has too few entertainment places for tourists,' Lo said. 'I had a couple of friends come visit from the US and Canada recently, and I did not know where to take them after dinner. They have tried Lan Kwai Fong many times. It will be good if there can be more new entertainment venues.'

Lo, chairman of bma Investment and manager of soccer team South China, said he was not aiming to directly take on Lan Kwai Fong with the new venue, in which he has invested HK$100 million, although he hoped to attract some of its patrons.

Zeman, the chairman of Lan Kwai Fong Holdings, said he welcomed the new competitor but was not worried it would affect his business, agreeing that Hong Kong needed many more entertainment areas.

'Lan Kwai Fong is Lan Kwai Fong - it is not just about restaurants and bars,' he said. 'We had an event at Halloween which attracted 150,000 people. It is a whole area. SoHo is another good area, Wyndham Street is another good area. Every one has its own customers.'

Lo said Hong Kong people liked to hang out at different places on one night, and The Tonno could save them time and travel expenses as they could dine in the restaurant first, then go clubbing and sing karaoke long into the night.

'We want The Tonno to be a landmark in Hong Kong. People will come here for an all-in-one service when they want entertainment,' he said.

Formerly the New Tonnochy Night Club - and known as the Tonnochy Ballroom in the early 1960s - the club closed in 2002 due to a general decline in demand for such a business in Hong Kong.

It reopened in 2006, but closed again early last year.

Lo said he had been looking for a place for the Wan Chai branch of his Red MR karaoke chain when he came across the building in Tonnochy Road and loved the location.

But it was too big to house only a karaoke box, so he came up with the idea of an entertainment hub, leased the place from a Taiwanese businessman late last year and began renovation in February.

'I was worried that many people would misunderstand that a nightclub would reopen here. It would be embarrassing ... But then I think it is good that once somebody says Tonnochy, everybody knows where it is,' he said.

Of his investment, more than 70 per cent was used for renovation and equipment. Other expenses included wages for nearly 200 employees and rent at HK$1 million a month.

But Lo did not think it was risky to invest so much when the economy looked gloomy. 'People need entertainment no matter whether the economy is good or bad.'

Professor Leo Sin Yat-ming, of the department of marketing at Chinese University, said Lo had to ensure the market had enough customers to sustain his business, given that the premises were so big.

A Tourism Board spokeswoman said its staff would inspect the venue on Thursday to see whether it would be a suitable tourist spot, and consider how to promote it with other characteristics of Wan Chai.

Lo said he had approached Wan Chai District Council for help in promoting The Tonno. District councillor Anna Tang King-yung said she had not spoken to Lo but she had received two complaints about noise from the ventilation system.