Estimated cost of Chinese opera centre more than doubles to HK$2.7b
Estimate more than doubles for the first venue due to be completed at West Kowloon arts hub
The estimated cost of building a Chinese opera centre at the West Kowloon arts hub has more than doubled from HK$1.3 billion to HK$2.7 billion in six years, says Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor.
The Xiqu Centre for operas, the first venue due to be completed, will take the shape of a lantern designed by architects Bing Thom of Vancouver and Hong Kong's Ronald Lu & Partners, the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority announced.
Disclosure of a higher cost estimate signals that the authority is under financial pressure to complete its project.
One academic speculated that development costs could double for the complete arts complex, which received Legislative Council approval in 2007 for a HK$21.6 billion budget to build 17 venues.
In March, the South China Morning Post estimated the arts hub could cost an extra HK$16 billion, citing skyrocketing construction costs, after a university don calculated that the government had underestimated costs.
A source close to the authority later said it had arrived at a higher figure, of about HK$20 billion, in an internal calculation.
Lam, the authority's chairwoman, declined to comment on the total cost. "We will estimate that only when all the designs are finalised. We will report our financial situation later to the Legislative Council. The HK$2.7 billion is already the upper limit."
The original budget came from a government-appointed financial consultant who assumed average inflation at 2 per cent a year.
Lam blamed the big rise on inflation and construction costs. The government's tender price index, which reflects materials and labour, has doubled from 751 in the third quarter of 2006 to 1,470 in the same period this year.
Another cost factor was the addition of 2,000 square metres of open space and educational facilities after public consultation, she said.
Polytechnic University real estate professor Eddie Hui Chi-man said he would not be surprised if the final cost was doubled, as the government had underestimated the impact of inflation.
"Other venues will face the same fate," Hui said.
The authority now has an increased budget of HK$23.5 billion to work with because of investment returns. Chief executive Michael Lynch said they would explore other financing tools, including selling naming rights and seeking sponsorships.
Lynch said Thom and Lu's winning design was "a reasonable price for something fantastic", as it was cheaper than other entries.
Hong Kong-born, Canadian-raised chief architect Thom said their design would elevate the stage, creating room for a courtyard. The design suggested a lantern and an opening theatre curtain - key elements of Chinese operas. It is due to open in 2016.
Alan Tam Wing-lun, an 18-year-old actor, believed the contemporary design would create a youthful image for the heritage art form. "It can attract a younger crowd," Tam said.
The authority's performing arts executive director Louis Yu Kwok-lit said the centre would offer a golden opportunity for the younger generation "but if the rent is set so high that it will ruin the chance of younger artists performing, it will defeat the purpose of this centre".