Historic Hong Kong mansion a commercial white elephant

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 July, 2015, 4:12pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 09 July, 2015, 4:12pm

I estimate that King Yin Lei Mansion in Stubbs Road is the most expensive heritage project to date.

This is because you have to add to the cost of the actual renovation the fact that in 2008 the government granted the adjacent site of 50,000 sq ft to the owner of the mansion in exchange for the building and its land.

While the owner paid the HK$57.99 million difference between the two plots in exchange for this adjacent site, this does not tell the whole story.

That site, with a plot ratio of 0.5 for a three-storey density development, is a typical villa lot.

With its unobstructed view of the harbour and proximity to Happy Valley and Causeway Bay, this is a prime site. If it were put up for auction, I would be surprised if it fetched less than HK$1 billion. Therefore, the government has, in effect, invested HK$1 billion in the King Yin Lei Mansion renovation project.

It is clear that King Yin Lei Mansion is a commercial white elephant. Repeated attempts have failed to find a private-sector user.

Heritage buildings are rarely commercially viable without redevelopment.

With more than 1,400 heritage locations earmarked, the Antiquities and Monuments Office should not keep expanding the list with no idea what to do with these places. The office must work closely with the owners to find solutions.

In each case, the office should seek to strike a balance between heritage value and the owners' interests with suitable government support rather than government intervention. The office should live with the decisions it has made. Don't get the Antiquity Advisory Board involved if it can be avoided.

One possible use of King Yin Lei Mansion is to move the existing Hong Kong Heritage Museum at Sha Tin into the premises.

There would be some downsizing of the museum, but there will be room for all four permanent exhibits. Additional space can be made available by redeveloping the outhouse and pavilion area with buildings of compatible design. The most important thing is to keep the mansion intact.

A low-cost industrial building can provide storage space. The scenic land vacated by the Heritage Museum along the Shing Mun River would be ideal for a high-end residential development, and the government will get back more than its billion-dollar investment in the mansion revamp.

John Pang, Tai Hang