Wing Lee Street may have been saved from demolition a year ago but conservation is difficult because the Urban Renewal Authority has been able to acquire and renovate only four of the 12 tenements.
The others are in the hands of property-acquisition companies and have been left to decay. None of the owners have responded to the authority's subsidy offer to revamp the buildings.
The Sheung Wan street has one of Hong Kong's last remaining clusters of Chinese-style tenements.
On a tour of the four renovated tenements yesterday, the authority's planning and design director, Michael Ma Chiu-chi, said staff had tried to keep original materials, like floor tiles and staircase railings. But they were only able to retain the characteristic tiles in three flats, as those in the other were too badly damaged.
'Our aim is to preserve the ambience of the terrace and the low-rise streetscape. We are not running a museum. While the facades will not be changed, the interiors should be adaptable to a new use,' Ma said.
A kitchen has been added to each renovated flat. The authority is inviting architectural conservationists to live in a block to do research and will rent the remaining three to overseas artists and non-government organisations at a nominal price.
In March last year, the authority scrapped redevelopment of the street in the face of strong opposition to its plans. It decided to zone the street as a conservation area to prevent redevelopment, renovate the blocks it had acquired, and offer subsidies to other owners to refurbish. Tenants affected have been relocated with compensation or to an authority housing block in Sheung Wan.
Lee Chak-yue, a tenant who has run a printing workshop for more than 30 years, said it was good to see the neighbouring blocks renovated.
Lee, in his 80s, said he had decided to retire. 'There used to be eight printing workshops in Wing Lee including mine,' he said. 'I hope the authority will set up a printing museum to remember our history.'