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West Kowloon Cultural District

Hong Kong musicians lament loss of mega performance venue at site of Palace Museum

Arts advisers say they were kept in the dark about decision to scrap the 15,000-seat arena and that a consultation should have been held

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 15 January, 2017, 8:53pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 15 January, 2017, 10:10pm

Musicians have lamented the decision to ditch plans for the city’s first professional performance venue at a site in the West Kowloon Cultural District where a local version of Beijing’s Palace Museum will now be built.

They said a public consultation should have been held first.

Composer Ng Cheuk-yin, the only professional musician among the 16-member consultation panel of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority, said: “Hong Kong has never had a large professional performance venue and it was something we musicians held much hope for since it was mentioned in the original blueprint of the hub.”

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He said the existing large venues in the city – such as the 12,000-seat Hong Kong Coliseum and the 14,000-seater AsiaWorld-Expo, and even the future 50,000-seat Kai Tak arena – were sports or multi-functional stadiums, not specialist music arenas.

“We expected the facilities would be professional, especially the acoustics, which would make the hall a unique cultural component in the West Kowloon Cultural District master plan,” Ng said.

The government explained last week that after chronicling the process since 2015, including two rounds of study on the commercial viability of the 15,000-seat mega arena, the authority’s board had concluded in September 2016 that it “was no longer a suitable proposition”.

“But I knew nothing about it until the news in December about the new Palace Museum project taking up the MPV site,” Ng said.

Both Ng and another panel member, Ada Wong Ying-kay, said the minutes of a panel meeting on September 23 made no mention of the board decision to scrap the venue.

“Our mandate is supposed to serve as a bridge between the general public and WKCDA. How can we perform our role well if major decisions such as the change of MPV are kept from us?” Wong asked.

Andrew Lam Siu-lo, a board member for eight years until last October, said: “As much as I am supportive of consultation, it’s hard for me to say you can do consultations on everything.”

Lam, chairman of the Antiquities Advisory Board, added: “Arts professionals would go for the venue but those who have financial concerns would think otherwise. It’s hard to reach a compromise and a consultation would not make any difference.”

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Lam said the board had exercised its statutory responsibility by making the decision, just as it did with the relocation of the M+ museum of visual culture and the merger of the lyric theatre with a mid-sized theatre – both were done without public consultation.

Music veterans must now look elsewhere after “broken promises” from the West Kowloon hub stretching back to 1998.

“At first the hub was in capable and professional hands,” veteran pop singer and producer Anders Nelsson told the Post.

“But the further we dragged this along, with the constant departures of professionals and the broken promises about the hub, I quickly lost confidence in the whole mess.”

He said a large acoustically designed venue was something he and his fellow musicians had been dreaming of since the 1970s, as “the sound in existing halls is awful”.

Ricky Fung Tim-chee, a veteran band leader, said he had pinned his hopes on the Kai Tak arena.

“The music industry has moved away from West Kowloon for many years now, and the Kai Tak halls are what we have set our eyes on,” he said, adding the roof should not be retractable for best effects.

But Nelsson, a Swede who has lived in Hong Kong since 1950, was less optimistic.

“It would be like going full circle with a convertible hall. Besides, I will be dead by the time Kai Tak opens, if ever,” he said.