Red tape delaying makeover of police base

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 February, 2012, 12:00am


The HK$1.8 billion redevelopment of the historic Central Police Station as an arts complex is getting 'bogged down in red tape' - but the end product will be worth the wait, a senior adviser to the project says.

The government's inertia is not the sole factor, although 'at times it takes ages for a decision to be made', said David Elliott, a British-born gallery and museum curator and writer.

'One of the problems is that there isn't a proper history [of Central Police Station] written,' said Elliot, who is advising the Jockey Club Charities Trust on the artistic development and programming for the 42-hectare heritage site.

'No one really knows what went on there,' he said.

'People go on about it being part of Hong Kong's identity, but it's a colonial prison for God's sake. Is that your identity? Maybe it still is.

'The idea is to get through all of that and tell the story. We have to get to the root of what it symbolises in Hong Kong and world history, and take it on from there.'

Elliott wants the content of the new arts complex to specifically relate to the history and the architecture of the site.

'We're looking at high-quality contemporary art from all over the world to provide a platform for Hong Kong and mainland artists, to make the city a cultural destination in terms of world culture,' he said.

The oldest building at the site was constructed by the British in 1864, with other blocks added in the first half of the 20th century.

As well as providing a law-enforcement base, the station served as a prison and contained dormitories for officers.

It is one of the last prominent examples of the city's past and parts of it continued to be used until the last decade.

The Jockey Club announced plans to fund the project last year, and architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron, which worked on London's Tate Modern, will contribute two new buildings to the design.

The Central Police Station site would include bars and restaurants, Elliott said, but they would have to have a cultural or heritage component specific to the site.

The redevelopment of another colonial building, the Marine Police Headquarters, angered conservation advocates.

They said the new 1881 Heritage shopping complex failed to reflect the historic nature of the site.

Unlike the developer of that site, the Jockey Club will not seek to recoup its investment in the Central Police Station project, which should be completed by 2014.

Elliott was in town as a judge of the Sovereign Asian Art Prize awards, which were presented at the Four Seasons Hotel in Central last week.

He is a former director of Tokyo's Mori Art Museum, a large privately-endowed museum devoted to contemporary - particularly Asian - art, architecture and design.

'This site is all about imagination and creativity,' he said.

'It's a chance for Hong Kong people to express themselves rather than get something from somewhere else in the world that's second-hand.'