Hong Kong's tallest building - Two International Finance Centre (Two IFC) - is due to be completed in June against a backdrop of a beleaguered office leasing market in Central. Rising to 400 metres, the 88-storey tower has a gross floor area of 1.95 million square feet, making it the largest grade-A office building. The skyscraper came under criticism at the initial planning stage because its height exceeds the ridge line on Hong Kong Island and concerns were expressed about its visual impact. Thomas Ho Hang-kwong, property director of joint-developer and owner MTR Corp, said the building would be a new landmark. Two IFC and a proposed 580-metre commercial tower of 102 storeys above Kowloon Station on the other side of Victoria Harbour would form a new gateway to the city between them, he said. 'Two IFC is the jewel of the business district . . . we can hardly find another large piece of land elsewhere in Central in the foreseeable decades to build a project that can compete with it,' he said. The development site was earmarked in a government feasibility study for Central and Wan Chai Reclamation in 1989, when the airport railway had not been taken into consideration. Mr Ho said: 'The airport railway has been identified as one of the airport core programme projects. An agreement on financing, construction and operations of the railway was signed in 1991 when I joined the company. Under the agreement, four hectares of land above Hong Kong Station were granted [to the then Mass Transit Railway Corp, or MTRC]. That year, the government launched the Metroplan study for the territory, which proposed the construction of the airport railway and suggested a landmark building be developed to highlight the central business district's visual prominence. In 1994, the MTRC took up the responsibility for site planning and preparation of a master design for planning approval. Two IFC was originally planned as two separate buildings of half the existing height. A consortium led by Sun Hung Kai Properties (SHKP) and Henderson Land Development won the development rights in 1996 and revised the plan to combine the two towers into Hong Kong's tallest. 'The revised scheme has much planning gain. It doubles the provision of public open space from 0.7 hectares to 1.3 hectares and its unique architectural design creates a visual coherence with the surrounding environment,' Mr Ho said. The nearly finished building provides horizontal fire separation with four refuge floors and four emergency exit staircases. Its central concrete core combines with eight huge external columns and eight secondary columns to carry the structure's weight. The building is strengthened by four large, three-storey, steel outriggers that are reinforced to withstand windy conditions. Up to 600 close-circuit television cameras will be installed in and around the building, which will be accessed via turnstiles. The building will also use an Octopus card access system. Analysts said Two IFC missed a golden opportunity to tap the growth of office demand in 2000 due to lengthy planning and sophisticated development procedures. They said the subsequent fall in office demand would restrict the bargaining power of the building owners to secure high occupancy. Under the development agreement, MTR is entitled to share 18 office floors, from the 33rd to the 52nd, excluding the 34th and 44th storeys. The Hong Kong Monetary Authority, which acquired the 55th, 56th, and the 77th to 88th floors, comprising 350,000 sq ft of gross floor area, for HK$3.69 billion, may release some floor space for lease later. The remaining space, nearly one million sq ft, is being held by SHKP and Henderson. The owners are competing for tenants. Regarding leasing efforts to secure tenants, Mr Ho said: 'They [tenants] choose us, but we choose them also.' He said Two IFC had a prominent location and was positioned to cluster international banks and financial institutions together with related professionals, management and consultancy firms. It would help boost Hong Kong's status as a global financial centre. Mr Ho said large clients, including banks, were in talks with MTR to lease more space, and priority would be given to those companies in related businesses. He was confident that, when completed, Two IFC would be the focus of the market's attention. Michael Cook, general manager of International Financial Centre Management, said he was co-ordinating leasing arrangements with the building's owners. He said the asking monthly face rent was between HK$35 and HK$45 per square foot and was negotiable. Incentives, including a rent-free period and associated subsidies, would depend on the size and budget of tenants.