Government to underwrite soccer centre's operating costs

HK$750m facility in Tseung Kwan O will get the go-ahead once the Jockey Club's charity arm approves HKFA's business proposal

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 24 May, 2013, 12:05pm

The government has agreed to underwrite millions of dollars in operating costs for the next 10 years so work can start on the long-overdue soccer centre at Tseung Kwan O.

With construction costs soaring from an estimated HK$600 million to HK$750 million, up from HK$103 million when the academy was first mooted 10 years ago, the financially strapped Hong Kong Football Association is now waiting for the Hong Kong Jockey Club's Charities Trustee to give the final go-ahead.

The Jockey Club, which has in principle agreed to foot the construction bill, will meet next week to discuss the latest proposal, which has been approved by the government and its Football Task Force. Eight standard-sized pitches are planned to be built on the landfill site at Tseung Kwan O with other support facilities for use for 25 years. If the green light is given, the academy could open in 2016 at the earliest.

Hong Kong Football Association chairman Brian Leung Hung-tak said they had proposed the projected construction costs to the Jockey Club but no details could be given because discussions were continuing.

"We understand there will be some more questions back and forth between the two bodies but we believe a resolution is very close now," said a source close to the project. "If the project can start in September, we will expect the centre to be open after 30 months, which means it can be ready for the 2016 season.

"The cost we proposed is an indicative figure because we don't have the final design yet, but it is based on the estimates done by the previous feasibility study commissioned by the Jockey Club in 2010 and has taken inflation into consideration.

"Once the Jockey Club has agreed to the proposal, we would expect a 12-month lead-in period for planning, consultation, getting funding approved and going out to tender for the contractors. Then there will come another 18 months for construction before the facility is ready."

One of the areas the Jockey Club would look into seriously before approving the proposal is the facility's business plan submitted by the association.

"The construction cost is quite straightforward, it depends on whether the Jockey Club wants to adopt an upscale design or just a low-cost basic model, but what the club really wants to know before they inject the money is whether the facility can survive after they hand it to the association, whether the income projection suggested by the association is feasible. The recent issues of the BMX Park in Gin Drinkers' Bay are something they don't want to see," said a Jockey Club source.

The park, which was built by the club for the 2009 East Asian Games before it was handed to the Hong Kong Cycling Association for daily operation, suffered losses of HK$6 million over the past three years and was once closed because of financial difficulties. It has since re-opened on a revised schedule.

But the Tseung Kwan O training centre is unlikely to face similar issues because the government will make up for any deficit.

It is estimated the centre will incur a deficit of HK$5 million to HK$7 million annually in its first five years of operation.

Government funding will be required for at least 10 years, according to the business plan, and the amount will heavily depend on how many business ventures the centre can generate, particularly through overseas clients using it as a training camp.