Asia Society short HK$80m for conserving Admiralty military site

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 January, 2012, 12:00am


The Asia Society is struggling to raise HK$80 million to conserve a prime military heritage site in Admiralty that will open next month as its new headquarters, but with limited public access.

Antiquities advisers say the society should allow greater public access rather than restrict visitors to several guided tours a week.

Describing the project as the most complicated he had ever handled, Ronnie Chan Chichung, chairman of the society's Hong Kong centre and also chairman of Hang Lung Properties, said yesterday HK$390 million had been spent renovating the former explosives magazine at the Old Victoria Barracks in Justice Drive and building a new entrance block and footbridges.

Of that sum, HK$102 million was contributed by the Jockey Club. The society is still HK$80 million short.

'There are a few expats who have given more than HK$20 million. Except for me, no other Chinese have donated more than this amount,' Chan said.

The institution was granted the site for 21 years at a nominal premium of HK$1,000 in 2005. Critics at the time attacked the government for handing over the site without putting it out to tender.

The project has experienced delay, running over the original HK$200 million budget because of technical issues such as altering the footbridge design to preserve fruit bat trees.

Chan said it would cost HK$30 million to HK$40 million a year to run. Asked if he was worried the centre would not be financially sustainable, Chan said: 'I have confidence in Hong Kong people. We will keep on raising money.'

It is the largest remaining British military site in Hong Kong, comprising four buildings built between 1863 and the 1940s that were used to store explosives. The centre has turned them into a gallery, a 100-seat theatre and conference rooms.

A new building has been erected at the entrance to house a hall that can stage banquets for up to 350 guests.

However, the centre is limiting public access for security reasons and to protect heritage. Visitors who want to enter the site must join a guided tour, organised on a few days a week, pay HK$30 for a gallery ticket and buy a ticket to enjoy a theatre show or to join the society's events.

Otherwise they will be restricted to the new entry pavilion, which houses a bookshop, a cafe and visitors' centre. They will be unable to wander around and see the historic blocks.

'The place is too large and security is a problem. What if people trip and fall over? We wouldn't know what to do,' Chan said.

Antiquities Advisory Board chairman Bernard Chan said the society should allow more public access.

Ng Cho-nam, a member of the antiquities board, said he was concerned that the society would charge too much for events and at the cafe to attract enough patronage to cover costs. He also said the new pavilion dwarfed a historic block next to it.