Kai Tak sports hub well worth the investment
- The centre can get off on the right foot by ensuring that transparency remains a byword of the project for the next 25 years
Hong Kong is fortunate to be able to find handily located accessible space to cover a black hole in its development – a modern sports centre including a world-class stadium for international events and community use. The city has the relocation of the airport from Kai Tak to Chek Lap Kok to thank for the opportunity. Other great cities would be envious. But support for the decision to undertake the HK$30 billion project falls short of consensus. The sports community had to fight off a move to shunt the sports centre to Lamma Island and use the 28-hectare Kai Tak site to relieve a housing crisis. It is now important for the city’s lifestyle balance and standing as a major sports venue that the centre prove wrong predictions that it will be a white elephant and underused.
That is now largely down to the government and the bidder it has chosen for a 25-year contract to design, build and operate the centre. Kai Tak Sports Park Limited is a subsidiary of property giant New World Development. This has raised concerns about sport being sidelined in favour of profit-generating retail and entertainment activities. The government and the winning bidder pledged to produce world-class sports facilities. Building them with taxpayers’ money will be the easy part. Running them at a profit after paying the government 3 per cent of gross annual income plus HK$1.72 billion over 25 years will be the test. The community interest – sport, recreation and fitness – must not be compromised in the process.
Much, including public perception of the value of the asset, will depend on attracting major sports events that draw large numbers of paying spectators. Officials have a role to play in promoting the city as a venue and the hub of regional packages for sports tourism.
That said, the new centre cannot survive by sport alone. But New World is an experienced enough developer of major integrated projects to understand public expectations. The administration must take an abiding interest and be prepared to stand behind a massive public investment greater than its initial outlay on Hong Kong Disneyland. The indisputable physical and psychological benefits of a vibrant sport and recreation culture are worth it. It can get off on the right foot by ensuring that transparency remains a byword of the project for the next 25 years.