Hong Kong Avenue of Stars expansion won't feature luxury shops or posh restaurants, top officials says amid outcry
Government tries to quell outcry over apparent no-bid agreement for developer to construct new buildings along Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront
No luxury shops or swanky dining will be allowed on the Avenue of Stars as part of a revitalisation project entrusted to a developer, a senior official pledged, amid an outcry over the decision to hand over public land to a private investor without bidding.
The government’s assurance came six days after town planning regulators gave New World Development conditional approval to more than double the 440-metre avenue by 500 metres along the Tsim Sha Tsui promenade towards Hung Hom.
New World had been managing the existing avenue on a 20-year contract since 2004. The developer has signed a new public-private partnership for 20 years that would override the existing contract and effectively extend its management role to 2035.
Dr Louis Ng Chi-wa, deputy director of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, yesterday confirmed the government had accepted the new 20-year partnership with New World.
But he added: “We don’t want the promenade to be too commercialised with luxury shops. High-end restaurants are unlikely to be opened there.”
He said a posh restaurant could be added to the nearby Museum of Art as part of its renovation.
On August 21, the Town Planning Board endorsed the expansion despite overwhelming public opposition. It will include a new dining hub, a film gallery and a performance venue, all to be built at the firm’s expense.
Critics say although any proceeds from businesses along the avenue must be ploughed back into its maintenance instead of being channelled to New World’s accounts, the developer will still benefit from the increased traffic as it has properties in Tsim Sha Tsui East.
Jeff Tung Jing-kong, senior project director of New World, said the expansion would cost the company “hundreds of millions of dollars”.
Tung did not comment on the project’s benefits for his company. “It is a ‘win-win’ for everyone, including local residents, tourists and all businesses in the area,” he said.
Ng dismissed the notion that the project was granted to New World as a favour.
“Don’t view this project with prejudice,” he said. “This is not a property or commercial project. The land is wholly owned and managed by the department … We will set up an advisory committee to advise us on management issues by inviting experts and community personalities.”
He also rejected suggestions for an open tender. “Our contract with New World still has nine years to go. We cannot fire it unless it performs very poorly, or we would risk a lawsuit.”
Meanwhile, former Liberal Party chairman James Tien Pei-chun, who is also a former chairman of the Tourism Board, said the government should not bypass the tendering process for the project.
Speaking during a Commercial Radio talk show on Friday, Tien said he believed New World Development might still win if a bidding process was held, given the developer’s portfolio in the district. But the government should follow well-established procedures, he said.
"If it is not going through the process, I think this is problematic," Tien said.
Tien said he personally supported the redevelopment plan. "It can improve the overall tourism there,” he said.
Additional reporting by Lai Ying-kit