My Take

West Kowloon arts hub is turning from showcase into run-of-the-mill government-designed facility

Grandiose project, which is far behind schedule and well over budget, has been taken over by bureaucrats and experts in property development

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 March, 2016, 11:30pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 March, 2016, 11:30pm

By now, it’s clear that the West Kowloon arts hub is no more than an engineering and construction project as far as the government is concerned.

Artistic types like Graham Sheffield, Lars Nittve and Michael Lynch have all skipped town. Nittve was the director of the supposed showcase M+ Museum, while the other two were the hub’s former CEOs.

This is hardly surprising for a project that has dragged on for almost two decades and suffers repeated delays and controversies. It must be a fun place to work in.

The bureaucrats on the one hand and the artists and art managers on the other couldn’t agree on what the project was supposed to achieve or showcase. So naturally, the bureaucrats and property guys take over.

The latest is the appointment of William Chan, a former senior director at Kerry Properties, one of the city’s top developers, as chief operating officer. He was previously with Cyberport and the MTR Corporation.

Last year, Duncan Pescod took over as CEO from Lynch. A former housing chief, Pescod had worked at the Lands Department and the now defunct Urban Services Department in a civil-service career spanning 32 years.

What are the two men’s artistic credentials? None whatsoever. But they do know how to build things. Their mission is to finish the job on time and within a budget of about HK$23.5 billion.

Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who is also chair of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority Board, has made it clear there will be no more money down the road.

She has said so in no uncertain terms about Chan’s appointment. It’s to deliver the “core venues on time with rigorous cost control”, she said.

This is not a case of collusion with property developers but a desperate effort to finish a project that no one wants to take ownership of anymore.

Our first chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, had a grandiose if fuzzy vision for the arts hub. But almost 20 years on, people are tired of it. If the final buildings turn out to be glorified versions of Leisure and Cultural Services Department community centres, well, that’s too bad.

Maybe they should have done that from the start.