Living heritage of Hong Kong

Hong Kong City Hall set to close for three years for major facelift

Venue partners welcome the prospect of a new upgraded home despite the closure

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 January, 2018, 8:30am
UPDATED : Monday, 15 January, 2018, 2:16pm

The landmark Hong Kong City Hall will be closed for up to three years for a major facelift as part of plans to develop the Central Harbourfront, government officials have revealed.

The Leisure and Cultural Services Department is planning to roll out a series of projects to launch and renovate new and existing halls and theatres.

“After East Kowloon Cultural Centre opens in 2021, we’ll turn to City Hall for a major renovation,” Heidi Chu Ching-han, LCSD chief manager of performance venues, told the Post.

“By then City Hall will be 60 years old and some of its facilities, especially those backstage, are long-overdue for an upgrade.”

LCSD assistant director Elaine Yeung Chi-lan quoted experts as saying the three-year closure of City Hall was necessary. Facilities in the building, which opened in 1962, include a concert hall, theatre and exhibition hall overlooking Victoria Harbour.

“The renovations will touch on utilities that have been on the seabed under City Hall for decades and noise is inevitable in taking down the car park for the new annex. So a long closure is the only way to get everything done in one go,” she said.

Lee Ho-yee, general manager of the Hong Kong Sinfonietta, venue partner of the 1,400-seat concert hall since 2009, recalled that space was so tight chorus members had to stand in the street or in the adjacent car park before going on stage.

“There is zero space at the side of the stage, and musicians have to line up to go on stage. And large instruments such as percussion have to be taken to the hall and often go out of tune during transportation,” she said.

Two Steinway grand pianos worth HK$2.25 million did not fare any better than those in sub-divided flats in Sham Shui Po when they too were stored into a single room backstage ventilated by a small mobile cooling fan.

The Hong Kong Repertory Theatre, venue partner of the 500-seat theatre, had its own space problems.

“The Electrical and Mechanical Services Department has a room that separates our dressing rooms backstage,” said Chan Kin-bun, the group’s chief executive.

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While these issues would be addressed in the future renovations, it was the new annex that would create hope.

“Before the new annex is built as an extension to the hall facilities, we need to find a parking space for 175 vehicles in Central,” Chu said.

A preliminary plan called for the 175-space car park behind City Hall at 1 Edinburgh Place to be “relocated” a few hundred meters away at the Central Harbourfront as part of a future commercial and office complex.

The possible relocation of the car park would be to make way for the planned annex, which primarily featured three rehearsal/performance rooms visible from Gloucester Road plus ample storage space.

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Both venue partners welcomed the prospect of a new home despite the closure.

“For long-term interests, we welcome the renovations to fix existing defects,” said Anthony Chan Kam-kuen, the Repertory’s artistic director, citing a power cut during a performance last year.

“As for the new annex, we hope there will be a black box theatre for 300-400 seats to experiment with new plays.”

Like the Repertory, the Sinfonietta is keen to see its home in a renovated City Hall.

“We often impress overseas audiences on tours. So better facilities at home will definitely take us to a higher level, and we deserve that,” Lee said.

The Hong Kong Repertory was ready to relocate to the new East Kowloon venue in the case of a three-year closure of City Hall as “our audience would follow us”, the director said.

But the Sinfonietta had concerns in addition to worried about hall acoustics.

“Our audience is family-based and quite a number of them, including some elderly ones, live on Hong Kong Island,” Lee said.

Given the future West Kowloon culture hub would not provide residency for art groups, Lee asked: “What about the LCSD pioneering it through us that a hall resident company is viable in Hong Kong for just a fraction of the expense at the West Kowloon hub?”