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The cost of converting the 19th century former Central Police Station compound in Central has ballooned to about HK$3.6 billion, twice the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s initial estimate. Photo: Sam Tsang

ExclusiveConversion of Hong Kong police station to arts centre busts budget

Hong Kong Jockey Club expects to spend ‘about double’ the initial HK$1.8 billion budgeted for creating Tai Kwun arts centre at former Central Police Station compound, a project hit by delays following a building’s collapse 

The Hong Kong Jockey Club expects to spend about double its original budget on the revitalisation of the Central Police Station compound, the Post has learned. 

The Jockey Club, which has underwritten and managed the transformation of the 150-year-old former police station and prison compound, estimated the project would cost HK$1.8 billion (US$230 million) when work began in 2011 – a figure it has not revised until now despite heavy delays to the project.

The collapse of the roof and a wall of the former married police inspectors' quarters at the Central compound in 2016 delayed the Jockey Club project. Photo: Edmond So

“The total project development and capital cost is about double our initial estimate. The project [is] not completed yet and we do not have an exact cost figure to provide at this point,” the club said in an emailed statement in response to the Post’s questions.

The Post’s own calculations show the club’s charities trust had spent around HK$3.4 billion by the end of March. 

The club has the monopoly on horse racing and sports betting in a city that likes a flutter, and has often been dubbed “Hong Kong’s ATM” since, as a non-profit, it has to donate all its surplus.

An artist’s impression of one of the additions to the historic police station and prison complex. Image: Tai Kwun 
The Jockey Club sought to reassure the public that it would not reduce its donations to charities when it pledged HK$3.5 billion to build the Hong Kong branch of the  Beijing Palace Museum in the West Kowloon Cultural District. The donation will allow the government to build the museum without being subject to Legislative Council oversight.
The Central Police Station compound is being turned into an arts and heritage centre called Tai Kwun. It should have opened in late 2016, but  a wall and part of the roof of one of its 16 buildings collapsed just months ahead of the scheduled completion date.
Lawmaker Claudia Mo says the cost overrun on the Central project is cause for concern about the project to build a branch of Beijing’s Palace Museum in Hong Kong, which is also Jockey Club-funded. Photo: K.Y. Cheng

The collapse required a thorough investigation into the safety of the remaining structures. The cluster, which includes two new units housing an auditorium and contemporary art galleries designed by architects Herzog & de Meuron, will have a partial opening on May 25. 

Is the West Kowloon Cultural District finally taking shape?

Tai Kwun, as the former Central Police Station compound is now called, will partially open next month, nearly two years behind schedule. Photo: Sam Tsang

Lawmaker Claudia Mo Man-ching, who sits on the Legislative Council subcommittee monitoring the West Kowloon Cultural District, said the cost overrun at the former police station was “very much a cause for concern”.

“The fact that the Jockey Club can get its Central Police Station projection so wrong could mean that the Palace Museum will cost a lot more than it thinks,” she said.

The Jockey Club said its donation to the Palace Museum project was capped at HK$3.5 billion, which means the government will have to find alternative funding to cover the extra.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Station revampto cost almost twice as much