Cheer for former Central Market as nominal fee agreed for troubled revitalisation project
Architect says decision should overcome final hurdle of land premium
A nominal fee has been agreed on the site of the former Central Market in what is believed to be the final hurdle before the Urban Renewal Authority begins the troubled revitalisation project.
The announcement on Wednesday came after lengthy negotiations between the URA, a statutory body, and the government over land premium, which could have made the project financially unviable after an original design was scrapped due to its high cost.
The URA welcomed the decision and said work would start in the third quarter of the year with a target completion date of 2021, nearly 20 years after the building was vacated in 2003.
First proposed in 2009, the stalled project received the green light again after the Chief Executive in Council awarded the site in the heart of Central to the URA in a 21-year private treaty.
A nominal land premium will now be charged, contrary to earlier reports that the sum would be decided at the market rate.
A recent survey by real estate firm CBRE put Central district as the most expensive office market in the world, at an average of HK$171 per sq ft a month.
A high development cost would have gone against the aim to provide affordable dining and entertainment options instead of a luxury shopping mall – a pledge made by chief executive-elect Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor during her tenure as development minister in 2009.
Dubbed “Central Oasis”, the plan has suffered several setbacks.
An initial design, which would have seen the addition of a basement and an eye-catching “floating garden” on the roof, was scrapped because it would have cost as much as HK$1.5 billion to build.
Two judicial reviews against an outline zoning plan for the project caused further delays.
The latest design, announced in 2015, scrapped the garden and focused on refurbishing the Bauhaus complex, which was built in 1939 and is a grade three historic building.
It is now expected to cost the authority HK$740 million, compared to the HK$600 million it estimated two years ago.
Former Institute of Architects president Vincent Ng Wing-shun, who is now in charge of the project, said the land premium should be the final hurdle .
“Of course there are minor issues pending government approval ... [such as] a conservation management report submitted to the Antiquities and Monuments Office,” he said.
Asked whether the current design would fail to live up to its “oasis” tag, Ng admitted that it has now become more of a conservation project, rather than a centre of green space.