'There is no profit': head of Hong Kong developer New World says extending Avenue of Stars is a 'thankless task' he didn't really want

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 September, 2015, 12:01am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 September, 2015, 12:01am

The head of the developer behind controversial plans to extend Tsim Sha Tsui's Avenue of Stars said he never really wanted to take on the "thankless task" anyway, as he hit back at claims the government was granting his company favours.

Speaking for the first time since planners approved New World Development's proposal, chairman Henry Cheng Kar-shun said he found objections to the scheme "baffling" and did not believe an open tender, which critics have demanded, would attract much interest. But he did admit that the company hoped for spin-off benefits from a major development nearby.

New World, via a not-for-profit subsidiary, plans to extend the 440-metre avenue by 500 metres to Hung Hom and build new dining spots, shops and cultural attractions under a public-private partnership with the Leisure and Cultural Services Department. In return, it would see the area - which it has run since building the original avenue in 2004 - entrusted to it for the next 20 years.

The Town Planning Board approved the rezoning plan last month despite a storm of objections. But the proposal suffered a setback on Tuesday, when the department put on hold plans to sign a deal with New World and pledged to consult the public after criticism from members of the government's Harbourfront Commission.

But Cheng yesterday insisted the plan was made out of good intentions.

"The avenue is old and it is described as one of the unattractive spots by tourists. Now there is a chance to give it a facelift. I do not understand why people object. It is baffling," he said at a press conference for his jewellery business, Chow Tai Fook.

"This is a win-win-win situation. Three parties - the general public, the government and ourselves - benefit from it."

On the question of open bidding for the project, Cheng said: "I welcome open tender. I do not think many other parties will be interested in it. This is a kind of thankless task. I do not really want to do it.

"There is no conflict of interest. It is just like properties built along the mass transit system, benefiting from the improved infrastructure. Can we call this a conflict of interest?"

While any surplus from the development will go to the not-for-profit organisation, Cheng did concede that his company hoped for spin-off benefits as tourists visited the redeveloped avenue. The company is redeveloping the adjacent New World Centre into a 66-storey tower that will feature a hotel and shopping mall, as well as offices.

"There is no profit to be gained. I do not think many people will show interest. We are interested because we have New World Centre. We hope our business will benefit from the increase of traffic flow in the avenue," Cheng said.

New World earlier said it lost "a few million dollars" every year on the operation of the avenue, but has never disclosed the full details. It has also estimated that the facelift project would cost it "hundreds of millions of dollars".