Historic Hong Kong police compound to partially reopen as heritage and arts centre in May

Conservation work for the HK$1.8 billion project on Hollywood Road started in 2011 but faced a setback when a wall and roof partially collapsed two years ago

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 March, 2018, 5:35pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 March, 2018, 11:12pm

Hong Kong’s 154-year-old former Central Police Station compound, which is being turned into a heritage and arts site, is expected to partly open to the public as early as May after seven years of conservation, the Post has learned.

At least one of the compound’s 16 historic buildings – the three-storey Married Inspectors’ Quarters built in 1864 – may remain closed due to ongoing efforts to restore a wall and part of its roof, which collapsed in 2016, a few months before the conservation was expected to be completed.

The HK$1.8 billion (US$230.8 million) project on Hollywood Road, led by the Hong Kong Jockey Club, was conceptualised in 2007 and conservation work started in 2011.

The Post learned that the Jockey Club had targeted opening part of the compound to the public in late May, pending approval from government bodies.

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Democratic Party lawmaker Ted Hui Chi-fung, who is also a member of Central and Western District Council, said the club had recently told him informally about the target.

In an email to the Post, the club neither confirmed nor denied the target.

“Subject to works completion and government approvals, we target to open parts of the [compound] in mid-2018,” a club spokeswoman said. “[The compound] is an important heritage site that requires a lot of planning and care in its operation.”

She said about 37 per cent of the 300,000 sq ft site would be used for heritage and contemporary art.

Restaurants and shops would take up no more than 27 per cent of the area.

A Buildings Department spokeswoman said the department understood the club would apply to certify the completion of building works in phases, namely in groups of buildings.

She said the department had received one such application covering four buildings in the compound.

“Upon receipt of the application for an occupation permit, [the department] will process the application in accordance with the provisions of the Buildings Ordinance.”

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The spokeswoman added that the department would issue a permit after it received certifications from the Fire Services Department and the Water Supplies Department.

Built between 1864 and 1925, the compound, colloquially known as Tai Kwun or Big Station, consists of three main groups of buildings, including the police station, the former Central Magistracy and Victoria Prison.

The prison, first built in the 1840s and reconstructed in the 1860s, only ceased to function in 2006, making it Hong Kong’s longest operating prison.

Stephen Chan Chit-kwai, another Central district councillor, said he understood the prison cells would be the first buildings to open in May. Visitors could expect the cells to be one of the compound’s highlights.

“Visitors will see the cells as they were originally,” Chan said. “There will also be videos and other interactive storytelling features to help visitors experience how the prison used to operate.”

Apart from the 16 existing structures, there is a new art gallery and an auditorium.

In a blog post last September, Secretary for Development Michael Wong Wai-lun said the gallery was expected to feature six to eight exhibitions every year. It is hoped to become one of the most important contemporary art centres in Asia.

He added that the multi-purpose auditorium could be used for movie screenings, conferences, forums, education activities and other public events.

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But district councillors, urban planners and local residents have raised concerns that the opening of the compound would bring more people and traffic to the surrounding areas, particularly the overcrowded Hollywood Road and Central-Mid-Levels Escalator.

They said Central’s roads and walkways had been running near their capacities and urged the government to make the district more walkable.