Harbour site expanded to lure projects

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 December, 2011, 12:00am


The Harbourfront Commission has agreed to make more space for commercial developments at one of its Victoria Harbour sites to attract more investors and bring 'vibrancy' to the waterfront.

During a closed-door meeting yesterday, the commission said available commercial floor space could be 'suitably increased' in the larger of two project sites - a 9.9-hectare area from the Star Ferry Pier to the Hong Kong Exhibition Centre.

The move came after groups said in May that limited floor space and conditions imposed by the government on project partners made the project financially unviable.

The two sites cover about 10 hectares of the newly reclaimed Central harbour, including a 0.93-hectare area north of City Hall. While the smaller site could generate 7,500 square metres of floor space, the larger site originally only allowed 480 square metres.

Commission chairman Nicholas Brooke said yesterday that the body approved a government consultant's recommendation for a 'modest increase' in gross floor space at the larger site. But he did not give figures on the planned increase.

Members of the harbour watchdog, which include the Society for Protection of the Harbour and Real Estate Developers Association, also discussed ways to select a consortium, made up of winning bidders, that would partner with the government to develop the two sites. One plan is to set up an expert panel to approve 'creative and financially sound' proposals from developers.

This same approval system is used to select organisations tasked to revitalise heritage buildings.

Under the model proposed by the Development Bureau, winning bidders - which it says should include non-governmental groups and social enterprises - will be asked to design, build and operate facilities on the two harbour sites.

They will not be charged a land premium, the fee usually paid by developers, which is equivalent to the difference between a site's present value and developed value. But after an agreed number of years, the developers will have to pay a share of revenue to the government.

The winning consortium should also avoid populating the waterfront with international brands already existing in Central's shopping malls.

The bureau said it had received seven proposals from different consortiums during the marketing exercise. But according to people familiar with the project, many consortiums stated in their submissions that the government's plan for the sites was financially unfeasible.

Aside from widening space allotments, other options being considered by the government include injecting public funds into the project and extending waterfront land lease periods to give developers more time to profit from their investment.

Some commission members say adding commercial space is preferable to a public funds boost, which requires lawmakers' approval and can be 'controversial'.