New World sets lures for shoppers

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 August, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 August, 2001, 12:00am

The reopening of the New World Centre shopping mall is just the beginning of a tough assignment to draw shoppers' attention back to the south and east sides of Tsim Sha Tsui.

When the 609,025 square feet retail arcade closed for a HK$300 million facelift more than a year ago, west and central parts of Tsim Sha Tsui already were taking the leading role in the district known as Hong Kong's shopping paradise.

The situation was in sharp contrast to 20 years ago, when the mall attracted shoppers from throughout the city, partly because the New World Centre, with its two hotels, serviced apartments, offices and shopping mall, was then one of the largest commercial complexes in the world.

The centre gained some notoriety from its development timing. The project was announced in the early 1970s when a world recession prevailed. For that reason it stood out as a beacon of confidence in the future of Hong Kong.

Today, the busiest location in Tsim Sha Tsui is around Peking Road and Nathan Road and the popular shopping mall at Harbour City in Canton Road. These are all some distance from the New World Centre. As a result, it is in a relatively weak position geographically in terms of luring shoppers back from the west.

'It is not an easy job running a shopping mall,' admitted Stephen Yuan, the centre's general manager.

With its new face, targeting middle-income and higher-income families and tourists, the shopping mall, despite its size, is 90 per cent leased.

Mr Yuan expected an annual rental income of HK$200 million could be generated. Rentals for the 150 shops ranged from HK$40 to HK$160 per sq ft a month, about 20 per cent up from the rates before renovation.

To sustain the initial success, and ensure it is not totally reliant on the revamp of the complex, the developer has moved to redirect pedestrian flows to the somewhat isolated shopping centre.

Two underground pedestrian walkways have already been built to link the centre to The Peninsula Hotel and Sheraton Hong Kong Hotel. Mr Yuan said the developer was applying to the Government for permission to renovate the walkways, making them brighter and putting in air-conditioning.

The walkways also pass through the 75,655 sq ft The Palace Mall, an underground mall just next to New World Centre and owned by the same developer - New World Development.

The Palace Mall is virtually vacant because it is undergoing changes and its success remains to be seen.

'We want to introduce a single operator for the arcade. We are in discussion with three interested parties, who are running entertainment, clothing, as well as food-and-beverage businesses,' Mr Yuan said.

The existing shops will be cleared at the middle of next year.

New World is also looking to create a new source of traffic to the shopping mall.

Mr Yuan said the company was in discussions with the Government about renovating the long promenade next to New World Centre, running from Hunghom to the Hong Kong Cultural Centre promenade into a 'Star Avenue', with numerous attractions dominated by performance arts.

If the project comes to fruition, the plan will cost the developer 'tens of millions of dollar', with work expected to be finished in six months.

But, perhaps the most effective way to bring traffic will be the operation of the Kowloon-Canton Railway extension from Hunghom to Tsim Sha Tsui, due to begin in 2004.

This extension will bring more pedestrians to the east and south sides of Tsim Sha Tsui, with new railway stations opened at Wing On Plaza, in Tsim Sha Tsui East, and Middle Road, just opposite the New World Centre.

The most valuable clients from this route might be mainland shoppers, dropping off in Kowloon as their first stop in the SAR.

To tap the traffic flows, Mr Yuan said New World was negotiating for a station to be opened at the east wing of the New World Centre.