TWENTY FIVE years ago, Tsim Sha Tsui was the beating heart of Hong Kong, a mecca for tourists, shoppers and night-time revellers. After dark, expatriates and local celebrities would queue outside Polaris at the Hyatt or The Peninsula's basement disco while the surrounding bars thronged with party-goers. 'It's where everybody went,' recalls lawyer and businessman Robert Wang, who grew up in Nathan Road's Mirador Mansion in the 1960s and 70s. Nathan Road was then the Golden Mile. Now it is better known for tourist rip-offs than as one of the most sought-after stretches of property in the world. Tsim Sha Tsui has become a giant building site as the KCRC digs for its East Rail project; pedestrians need a hard hat, earplugs and the body-swerving ability of a break dancer to negotiate its shabby streets. Even travel agents have warned tourists away. 'The heart has been ripped out,' says Wang. 'All you can see is faded glory. In the 1970s there was hardly any nightlife in Central, Wan Chai was still for sailors and Suzie Wong while Causeway Bay wasn't a dining and entertainment district. Tsim Sha Tsui was the place to hang out.' Stephen Anderson, owner of the Kangaroo Pub, which has been on Ashley Road for more than a decade, agrees. 'Twenty years ago this area was packed. This was where people came,' he says. Over the past two decades, however, Lan Kwai Fong and SoHo have sprung up in Central, Wan Chai engineered a makeover and Causeway Bay became a nightlife hub. While Tsim Sha Tsui developed Knutsford Terrace and scattered bars sprung up, Wang and Anderson believe the area has stagnated while others have prospered. Both Wang and Anderson, however, have separate plans to put the heart - and soul - back into TST, or Tsimsy, as it is affectionately known. So too does the Miramar Hotel and Investment Company. All three are aiming to develop focused entertainment districts in TST, complete with outdoor dining, entertainment and Mediterranean-style terraces. Perhaps predictably, the proposals - at least those of Wang and the Miramar Group - aim to position TST as Kowloon's Lan Kwai Fong. They are within five minutes' walk of each other. Wang was first to go public with his scheme. In April he announced that together withentrepreneur Giacondo Maurellio - one of the first restaurateurs attracted to LKF in the early 80s - he intended to turn Minden Avenue, east of Nathan Road, into Kowloon's Lan Kwai Fong by the end of 2003. Backed by heavyweight developers Henderson Land and Sun Hung Kai Properties, the $6-billion project envisages 50 restaurants, pubs, karaoke bars, Internet cafes and clubs centred around an eight-sq-metre television screen and balcony stage for live performances. He is planning a two-day street festival early next year to publicise the area, which already has a handful offree-standing restaurants and bars and a new skyscraper that will contain serviced apartments and plush eateries. 'It's a long, arduous process,' says Wang of the redevelopment. Wang, who owns a property stake in Minden Avenue, says buying up units and waiting for tenants to move out before buildings can be demolished to make way for new monoliths is a drawn-out process. 'It has been happening in TST for 15 years. The heart beats slower and slower until it dies. Then it can be rejuvenated. The glory will be revived.' Anderson, chairman of the recently assembled Ashley Road Association, followed Wang's lead in October, unveiling plans for alfresco dining and entertainment in the Tsim Sha Tsui cul-de-sac. His aspirations are not to recreate LKF, but a 'Paris side-street' with cobbled paving, Chinese lanterns, shrubs and street entertainers. Anderson believes Ashley Road can be turned into a picturesque passageway leading from Kowloon Park to the defunct but still vacant Marine Police HQ and the Star Ferry. 'Geographically we are the heart of Tsim Sha Tsui, a dead-end road five minutes from all the major hotels. It could be a beautiful thoroughfare,' he beams. Not to be outdone, the Miramar Group earlier this month announced with great fanfare its own plans for TST. Knutsford Steps, a series of restaurants and bars with terraces and balconies, is being created with a walkway linking it to the established nightspot cluster along Knutsford Terrace. Miramar's slogan for Knutsford Steps and Terrace is 'together, Kowloon's only answer to Lan Kwai Fong'. Miramar Group general manager Peter Yu says the plan is to tap into the same success that clusters of bars and restaurants have had in SoHo, Happy Valley, Stanley and Quarry Bay. 'In Kowloon there aren't any major clusters to speak of,' he says. 'Because of the scattered scene it is very difficult to promote the area to the tourism industry.' The old Miramar cinema and several run-down shops have made way for the burnt orange walls, arched doorways and open terraces and verandahs of the Mediterranean and North African themed development. Restaurants will serve cuisine from along the old spice route from Europe and North Africa through Thailand, India and Malaysia. The first phase - comprising 10 bars and restaurants and five shops - will be completed by mid-2003 - before KLKF is launched.Yu insists it is not gazumping Wang and Maurellio. 'It's competition, but healthy competition,' says Yu. Wang agrees with the more-the-merrier philosophy. 'We are all here to increase the value stake of Hong Kong to international tourism, we all scratch each other's back,' says Wang, who envisages Minden Avenue as an upscale area or, as he puts it, a place with 'no won ton shops'. 'Our progress has been somewhat hampered by the KCRC construction workson East Tsim Sha Tsui station,' he says, but adds the neighbouring works should be finished by mid-2003. 'Tourists would love to be there [TST] except for many years the heart has been missing,' he says. He anticipates revellers will also come from the New Territories and the mainland and that there will be some 'cross-fertilisation' with Central's Lan Kwai Fong. 'When I want to feel more international I will go to Lan Kwai Fong, when I want to feel more local I will go to Minden Avenue,' says Wang. 'Anything done in TST to improve the area is positive,' says Anderson. 'It is big enough to have three or four distinct areas.' At present Ashley Road is lined with Western and local bars and restaurants including Mes Amis and Fat Angelos, but the grubby street is crowded with parked cars and motorbikes. Anderson's ideas to regenerate the street are banged out with the rapidity of the jackhammers down the road; the PLA band playing at weekends, youth arts shows, attracting more cruise ships to TST ... But he is finding it hard to make the government hear above the din, saying bureaucracy is stifling local traders attempting to improve their environment. 'It could be done in a week if the will was there,' he says. The government insists Ashley Road's traders must find an alternative motorbike parking site if thecollective of 30-or-so small traders' plan is to succeed, to which Anderson shrugs his shoulders in a resigned manner. The other two schemes have advantages, says Anderson, because of big name backing. The Miramar flexed its muscle by parading Hong Kong Tourism Board director Clara Chong Ming-wah at the site's unveiling. She gave an enthusiastic welcoming speech. Wang, with Sun Hung Kai and Henderson behind him, is effusive about the support of different government departments. Anderson says the association has battled for years only to get a lukewarm response, with officials yet to give the go-ahead to any part of the plan. He says the government should have informed traders and tour groups of an overall vision once the bulldozers have finished ripping up TST and the new look heart emerges in 2005. He also believes his simple scheme is the most fitting for TST, offering a scathing assessment of the Miramar's theme and being dismissive of Wang's plan to trade on Lan Kwai Fong's name. 'Tourists don't want to walk around looking for little Tuscany or Moroccan restaurants,' he says. 'We have a colonial and Chinese heritage, people like seeing where East meets West. And why copy Lan Kwai Fong? It's better to create your own distinct style.' Wang says he is using the LKF moniker 'as a prefix' so the area is readily identifiable to people. 'After a while it will be dropped as the area becomes known,' he says. Even so, he has registered KLKF as a trademark. Allan Zeman, dubbed 'Mr Lan Kwai Fong' because he is the area's principal landlord and property developer, is not surprised by the glut of imitations. 'Lan Kwai Fong is a name in Asia. Every major city in China has one,' he says. 'A copy is always a copy, but it's flattering.' Zeman says he's never found the right area in Kowloon to invest in, but agrees that 'Hong Kong needs more areas like Lan Kwai Fong and entertainment districts.'