A zone for small, creative businesses in an eight-storey Housing Authority mall now under construction has drawn five times more applicants than there are shops available.
The authority has received 130 applicants for the 23 shops in the 'small retail zone' of The Domain in Yau Tong, the public body's biggest commercial project, which is due to open before Christmas.
It stands in marked contrast to the authority's former estate shopping malls, where small businesses were forced out by rising rents and replaced by big chains, since the malls were sold off to The Link Reit in 2005.
Rosaline Wong Lai-ping, the Housing Department's chief estate surveyor for commercial properties, said the response to the zone, which she described as an experiment, had been enthusiastic.
'The idea of the small retail zone was to invite young creative people who want to set up a small business. They need not have a lot of business experience. We are looking for some trendy, unique products and services,' Wong said.
Half of the applicants propose to sell do-it-yourself goods, such as handmade accessories and chocolate.
The zone will take up only three per cent of the mall's gross floor area of 45,000 square metres, while two chains, A.S. Watson Group and Megabite, which have signed a leasing agreement with the authority, will occupy 30 per cent with their restaurants and shops.
'The small retail zone is a trial,' Wong said, explaining the small percentage of space devoted to it. 'We try to strike a balance, avoiding a dominance of the chain stores but at the same time we have to consider the relative lack of business experience of the small retailers.'
Unlike small shopping centres in the authority's public rental estates, which usually sell cheap daily necessities, the new mall near the entrance of the Eastern Harbour Tunnel and next to Yau Tong MTR station, will serve east Kowloon districts including Kwun Tong and Tseung Kwan O.
Targeting young families, the authority wants to change the impression that its malls are uninteresting, and has enlisted leasing consultants to advise on marketing strategies.
The authority has planned the HK$1.5 billion project for years. In a 2004 review, it decided to upgrade the mall to serve a larger district than Yau Tong, where 10,500 people now live in the authority's public rental homes, to exploit its convenient location and proximity to tourist spots in nearby Lei Yuen Mun.
Wong said a committee was now screening the applications and those who fitted the requirements would go through a normal tender exercise, with the tenancies going to those offering the highest rent.
Wong said a two-year tenancy, instead of the normal three years, would be arranged to give the small retailers some flexibility.
The authority decided not to sell The Domain to the Link, which has been criticised for forcing out small tenants by increasing their rents.