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Hong Kong shipping and logistics

Hong Kong Mariners’ Club to undergo redevelopment, includes commercial hotel

Plans to redevelop the club have been discussed for decades

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 March, 2017, 4:09pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 March, 2017, 9:34pm

The Mariners’ Club has reinstated plans to renovate its near half-century-old building which have been put on and off the table for nearly 30 years, as declining revenue and a low number of seafarers using the club put pressure on its financial sustainability.

The Sailors Home and Missions to Seamen, which operates the 12-storey building, is looking to partner with a developer to redevelop the site into a composite building consisting of a new Mariners’ Club on the lower levels and a commercial hotel on the upper floors.

The number of Hong Kong sailors working on long-haul vessels has dropped from a peak of more than 60,000 to fewer than 400, making the need for such a large facility unnecessary, according to the mission. It said having a commercial hotel and shrinking the size of the club was to “ensure the long-term financial sustainability of the club”.

“We have been experiencing for some time a significant [financial] deficit and when we looked at the possibility of keeping the building and renovating it ... one would now expect we do not have the funds to do so,” its honorary secretary Colin Shaftesley said. “[Without this redevelopment plan] we would probably either have to hand the building back to the government or close down a significant part of the building.”

The building was constructed in May 30, 1967, and officially opened by colonial governor Sir David Trench.

Development of the site has been approved and stopped in the past. Most recently in the early 2000s, plans were approved to turn the site into a block of high-rise flats in partnership with Swire Properties. But the deal fell through and instead the club’s first two floors were renovated.

The club’s purpose was to provide a place for seafarers to get rest in clean and cheap accommodation, receive necessary assistance, and religious guidance.

“It was determined in the late 1980s, early 1990s that the model of the maritime industry on which the Mariners’ Club had been built on in 1967 was no longer relevant,” maritime historian and honorary University of Hong Kong professor Stephen Davies said.

Accommodation needs for ship crews changed in that time period from long term and unscheduled stays in old-style tramp trade shipping to replacement crews on standby with fixed schedules and the ability to fly home instead of waiting for a ship to take them home.

“You are spending loads of money on a 12-floor building for which there’s no demand for a number of the floors,” Davies said.

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Shaftesley said the new building will still have hostels for seafarers but there will be fewer rooms.

Davies said even though there were fewer sailors in need of the club’s facilities there was no other organisation looking after their welfare.

“Just as [the mission has] been fundraising ever since they first arrived in Hong Kong in 1885, in order to try and provide welfare for seafarers, they’re now going at it in a 21st century way,” he said.

One surprising aspect of the plan is to construct a shorter building rather than the usual practise in Hong Kong of going as high as legally possible. This was in order to try and keep operating costs down according to Shaftesley.

But CEO of urban design NGO Designing Hong Kong Paul Zimmerman did not think that will happen in the end especially in such a prime location.

“The developer will max out the plot ratio and max out the building height ... the developer will show [the mission] the way,” he said.

The few churches occupying the current building will be given space in the new building.

The club’s building is prime real estate, situated in the heart of Hong Kong’s shopping and museum district on Middle Road.

Zimmerman hopes the club and the government could take advantage of the redevelopment by connecting the difficult to access Signal Hill Garden with the Middle Road Children’s Playground and the East Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront.

The club also owns and operates a three-storey building in Kwai Chung offering short term rest and relaxation facilities.

The redevelopment is expected to be completed in five years once it begins.