Make every effort to save State Theatre
- New World Development has promised to ‘preserve the essence of the former theatre’
- We should all make sure it delivers on that pledge
Hong Kong has long been known for having a strong appetite for knocking down old buildings for redevelopment. Recently, however, there appears to have been an awakening to the need for preserving the past. But a weak mechanism oftens make heritage conservation a half-hearted affair. Striking the right balance remains a challenge.
In what appears to be a sensible step forward, the developer of the defunct State Theatre in North Point said it intended to preserve some historic features while seeking a compulsory sale order of the complex from the courts. Little is known about the actual plan, but New World Development said it would “actively consider how to preserve the essence of the former theatre”.
It would be good if the 66-year old theatre could be saved from the wrecking ball. Built with an artistic facade and unique curved arches, the complex now comprises a rundown shopping arcade, a residential block and the defunct cinema, part of which has been converted into a snooker parlour. Once the performance venue for late singer Teresa Teng and violinist Issac Stern, the theatre is testimony of the city’s glamorous past.
Unlike historical monuments that are protected from redevelopment, buildings graded as having heritage value have little safeguard under the existing mechanism. It remains to be seen whether the courts will give the go-ahead for the redevelopment, which requires 80 per cent ownership to trigger a compulsory sale. Developers are not obliged to preserve anything when pursuing projects along this legal avenue.
Realistically, it would be difficult to brush aside the clamour for conservation. Following a community campaign to save the theatre in 2016, government advisers have upgraded the site from grade 3 to 1, which means every effort should be made to preserve it if possible. Dismissing people’s sentiments risks fuelling further objection.
This is set to be New World’s first project with a conservation element. The involvement of heritage experts as project advisers is a good start. Hopefully, a good balance can be struck.