Finally, it appears, the long-awaited renovations at the Fringe Club's heritage premises on Lower Albert Road will go ahead. I first heard about this project about three years ago when its management told me they had secured HK$24 million from the Hong Kong Jockey Club for the work. It was all quite exciting.
Other than complying with safety regulations, the physical upgrade - which includes plans to build another theatre - aims to secure financial independence for the 27-year-old arts group while continuing its role of providing support and rent-free facilities for emerging artists and small arts companies. Since then, its long-time tenants, M at the Fringe restaurant and the Pottery Workshop, have moved out - but not a single floor tile has been lifted.
'I can write a book about this project,' Fringe Club director Benny Chia Chun-heng quips. He says to get the ball rolling he had to secure approval from eight government departments, including the Government Property Agency, the de facto landlord. Chia says it could take up to three months for each department to study the renovation plan. If any of them had questions about any particular detail, the Fringe Club had to deal with the query, revise the proposal if necessary, and then re-submit for another round of perusal - which could take another three months or so.
With eight parties involved, you can do the maths.
To cut a very long story short, the Fringe Club - with help from a former senior government official who is now running for the chief executive post - received the green light recently: all is now set to go.
There is also the question of its lease renewal (which is coming up next spring) and how much rent they'll have to pay if the lease is extended but Chia is hoping that all these matters will be ironed out and settled in the near future.
In the meantime, the Fringe Club is inviting the public to submit old photographs taken at the venue to mark the renovations. 'We've been packing everything to get ready for our big renovation project,' its latest newsletter notes, 'and we've come across lots of 'old stuff' from ... the 1980s, 90s and more recently. This has brought back many memories from those days.'
If you have photos/images taken at the venue, e-mail them to [email protected] club.com or upload them on their Facebook page and tag them to the club.