But those behind a rival exhibition site say the government should not support 'second-rate, temporary facilities' The Trade Development Council (TDC) plans to convert the atrium linking the two parts of the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre into 19,400 square metres of exhibition space. If it goes ahead, construction of the $1.2 billion project will start in 2006 and end in 2009, providing a 42 per cent increase in space that the council says is needed to accommodate exhibitors on its waiting list. In the meantime, it will apply to use the nearby Tamar site to take the overflow. Extension plans have been on hold since the Wan Chai reclamation plan was scrapped after a successful legal action by harbour activists. A third phase of the centre was to have been built on the reclamation site. The council is pressing ahead with the plan despite objections from operators of AsiaWorld-Expo, a 100,000-square-metre exhibition facility being built at the airport. The Commerce, Industry and Technology Bureau said it would only support the TDC plan if it was satisfied 'that there will be unmet demand taking into account ... the additional 100,000 square metres of space to be provided by AsiaWorld-Expo and the timing of its availability'. It said 'due regard' would also be given to both the government's interests as a shareholder of AsiaWorld-Expo and the private sector's investment. TDC executive director Fred Lam Tin-fuk said yesterday there were more than 3,000 exhibitors on the convention centre's waiting list. But he said this was not the only justification for the plan. 'Now we cannot really attract more new shows because we know there's not enough space. With the new plan, a bigger pie would be created and less business will be lost to the mainland's exhibition venues,' he said. Asked why the TDC did not plan to move exhibitors to the AsiaWorld-Expo site, Mr Lam said this was not what the market wanted. He said about 90 per cent of 1,000 exhibitors indicated in a survey they would rather stay in the Wan Chai venue. 'Most would prefer not to have the same show split in two locations,' he said. AsiaWorld-Expo chief executive Nicolas Borit said it made no sense for the TDC to remain committed to the Wan Chai centre and only use the airport facility when the former was 'definitely saturated'. Phase one of AsiaWorld-Expo, offering 70,000 square metres, will double Hong Kong's exhibition space when completed in 2006. A second phase, to be built when the market demands, would add another 30,000 square metres. Mr Borit said if there was still demand after the two phases were completed, he would not oppose a third phase for the Convention and Exhibition Centre. 'But I have met no one who could tell me there is such a market. We should optimise the use of the government's investment rather than develop second-rate, temporary facilities,' he said. Revealing the TDC's proposal yesterday, Mr Lam said the council and the centre management would meet the cost of the work without government funding. But he could not reveal how the investment would be shared. TDC consultant KPMG said in a report on the plan that the conversion would attract 3,600 jobs, 76,500 exhibition-related visitors and $1.46 billion in expenditure in its first year of operation.