The government is being forced to subsidise restoration of the historic Haw Par Mansion after twice failing to find a commercial operator to do the job.
The Commissioner for Heritage's Office said yesterday it had cancelled a second tender exercise for the 76-year-old grade-one historic site in Tai Hang in Wan Chai, which drew only one bidder last month. The proposal failed to meet certain requirements in the tender documents.
The heritage office would include the mansion in an existing revitalisation scheme, and invite social enterprises to submit business proposals which would later be subsidised by the government, a person familiar with the project said.
Restoration costs are estimated at HK$120 million.
'We remain committed to the adaptive reuse of Haw Par Mansion in a way that will provide some public access, and we will actively consider other suitable approaches to the revitalisation of this unique, historic building,' a heritage office spokesman said.
The person familiar with the project said the bidder was a little-known cultural organisation hoping to use the site to promote Chinese culture.
At the first tender exercise in January, Cheung Kong (Holdings) said it would work with former newspaper tycoon Sally Aw Sian, a former owner of the property, to bid for the project. This exercise was also cancelled after falling short of some of the tender requirements.
Dr Lee Ho-yin, director of the University of Hong Kong's conservation programme, said it would be difficult to set up a lucrative business in the grade-one building, in which large-scale alterations are banned.
'The place was designed as a family residence, not for hundreds of people to visit. If you want to set up a restaurant, you need emergency installations in case of fire, and exits. There will be lots of constraints,' Lee said.
The mansion was built in 1935 in the Chinese Renaissance style by businessman Aw Boon-haw, along with Tiger Balm Garden, which was named after the ointment he developed with his brother Boon-par.
The public garden, whose sister sites can still be found in Fujian and Singapore, was a favourite with locals and tourists.
In 1998, Aw's daughter Sally sold the garden to Cheung Kong, which cleared it in 2004 to build the Legend luxury development. The mansion was later given to the government.