A former property executive with a strong arts background has been tipped as a top candidate to succeed Graham Sheffield, who resigned last week as chief executive of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority for health reasons. Stephan Spurr, who is in his 50s and left his post as the general manager, office, of Swire Properties at the end of last month, was on the final shortlist when the West Kowloon Cultural District authority picked Sheffield five months ago. Two people close to the authority said Spurr was not chosen because, during negotiations with the authority over the job, he asked for more autonomy to run the cultural district. 'He would have been a better candidate,' said one of the people. 'However his property background and demand for more independence may have been considered politically incorrect. 'The authority should hire a person who is from Hong Kong, who is able to stand up to the bureaucracy and tell the officials what he wants them to do for him. 'And they should hire someone who has enough local contacts to keep him ahead of politics.' Born in Japan and educated in Canada, India and Britain, Spurr has a strong background in the Hong Kong property market due to his time with Hong Kong Land and Swire Properties. He is also an avid arts lover and a drama fan. He was the vice-chairman of Shakespeare4All, which he directed for a few years. During his more than 20 years of service with Swire he managed to incorporate his passion for the arts and culture into business. He was a key planner when Swire transformed rundown Quarry Bay into the upmarket, artistic Island East office area during the past two decades. He was also involved in a number of arts-related projects, including Artistree, which turned some of the office space in Island East into a multipurpose venue for exhibitions and performances by arts groups. The venue was opened in 2008 with the well-received Victoria & Albert Museum's Vivienne Westwood retrospective - a show rejected by the government, which believed the public had no interest in such an event. In 2003 when three property giants were competing for the now defunct single tender for the West Kowloon Cultural District, Spurr worked with world-renowned architect Frank Ghery on an alternative proposal for the arts hub, suggesting that all the facilities should be fairly distributed across both sides of Victoria Harbour instead of concentrated in one area. Spurr declined to comment yesterday when asked whether he was interested in the job. Authority board member Allan Zeman declined to comment on whether Spurr would be a potential candidate to fill the 58-year-old Sheffield's shoes. 'We are just starting to look around now,' Zeman said, adding that the headhunter was currently looking at who might be suitable for the job. Zeman said Spurr was one of the people interviewed for the top job, but added that Spurr's demand for more autonomy and his property background were not the reasons why he was not selected. Some from the arts community felt Spurr would be good leading the arts hub. Ada Wong Ying-kay, a member of the authority's consultative committee, said Spurr would be a good choice to succeed Sheffield. 'The WKCD is now at its development and construction stage and we need a local who knows how to build things.' The authority's performing arts committee member, Fredric Mao Chun-fai, said that he had known Spurr previously as a keen patron of the arts. 'He came to see performances and was very concerned about what was happening in the arts sector,' said Mao. 'The good thing about him is that he was among those few Westerners familiar with Hong Kong and the local arts scene. But whether he's a suitable candidate will depend on exactly what the authority wanted the CEO to do.' Art critic Oscar Ho Hing-kay said he was impressed by Swire's alternative proposal for the arts hub back then. 'You must have guts in order to publicise such an alternative proposal,' Ho said. His property background should not be a reason why Spurr was not given the job. 'As long as that person is professional and artistic, we should give him a chance,' Ho said. 'If the government does not have the tolerance to accommodate the right talents, we might as well just not do any cultural projects at all.'