West Kowloon Cultural District

West Kowloon project will need more finance, says arts hub chief

Construction costs have put pressure on West Kowloon project and some buildings might have to be sacrificed if there's not enough cash

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 June, 2013, 7:29am

Rising construction costs have put pressure on the West Kowloon arts hub and it will need more financing in the future, its chief says.

Michael Lynch has admitted that may mean changing construction plans.

"If there's not enough money, we just can't build all the buildings," he said.

The West Kowloon Cultural District Authority is under pressure to increase the weighting it gives to cost when selecting winners of arts facilities competitions, meaning cheaper designs will stand a better chance of winning.

And in a Legislative Council meeting in April, the authority was urged to disclose the updated cost of building the 40-hectare complex after the cost of building the first venue - the Xiqu Centre - doubled from HK$1.3 billion to HK$2.7 billion.

Facilities to be built between 2017 and 2020 such as the Mega Performance Venue might not go ahead, depending on funding and costing.

Development of the Great Park - a key feature of Foster + Partners' City Park conceptual plan selected in 2011 - might have to be slowed down so that cultural activities can continue to be held at the site.

Despite the leak of a document to the media last month that the total budget for the arts hub will double from HK$21.6 billion to HK$47 billion, Lynch argued it still had deep pockets.

He said the hub had HK$24 billion in the bank - the result of investing the HK$21.6 billion down payment. A total of HK$950 million had been spent since 2008.

Lynch said the original deal for the arts hub was that the government would pick up the cost of infrastructure, and that part had yet to be quantified.

The cost of infrastructure had risen substantially since the Foster plan was adopted, he said.

"We will have a better idea over the course of the coming weeks, including the budget for M+," Lynch said.

The jury for the visual culture museum design competition has already made its recommendation to the board, but results will not be announced until the end of next month.

An action plan over the next three to four years will soon be drafted so that the arts hub "will have a much clearer idea of how far the HK$24 billion will go, and what other money we might need to raise to complete the project," Lynch said.

He said the arts hub would continue to explore other financing options, such as naming rights and philanthropic and sponsorship support.

But ideas he has proposed such as issuing bonds, or even a West Kowloon lottery, will probably be shelved. "I don't think many are interested in some of my innovative ideas," Lynch said.

He said venues like the Mega Performance Venue were cheap to build when the assumptions were made in 2008. "Now it's equivalent to any Olympic venue," Lynch said. "It will suck up money."

Lynch hopes to keep using a large area of the park for activities, even though it might slow down the park's construction. It is hoped events such as the Bamboo Theatre, Freespace and Clockenflap will continue in the coming three years, instead of stopping everything to make way for construction of the park.

It is also hoped that temporary theatres will stage productions in the coming months.