Despite the Town Planning Board in 2001 rezoning more than eight hectares of industrial land in Wong Chuk Hang for business use, the neighbourhood has kept a relatively low profile. But today, 15 years down the track, that is all set to change. The MTR’s South Island Line, hailed for connecting all of Hong Kong’s 18 districts, will officially open on Wednesday. And with it, demand for office space and commercial land in Wong Chuk Hang is expected to increase. But according to local business owners, this neighbourhood has been going through its own subtle transformation for some time. Dozens of art galleries, showrooms and studios, for example, have set up shop in these streets. In fact, so many have popped up that the South Island Cultural District alliance was formed to convince outsiders that Wong Chuk Hang is more than just a cluster of run-down factory blocks. Sneak peek at Hong Kong’s first new railway line in a decade One of the 26 members of the alliance is the Hong Kong branch of the Tokyo-based Whitestone Gallery, which was set up in 2014 inside an office property on Wong Chuk Hang Road. Director Koei Shiraishi, who welcomed the MTR’s opening, recalled how his primary consideration when finding the right location was space. “High ceilings with space for large paintings and sculptures were the most important elements, and it was really hard to find that kind of space in Central,” he said. Blindspot Gallery, meanwhile, moved into Wong Chuk Hang years earlier in 2010. A staff member told the Post how the gallery once occupied a street-level space on Aberdeen Street in Central before it moved to its current location – a 7,000 sq ft area occupying the entire floor of an industrial complex. Why every Hong Kong MTR station is a different colour – the reason may surprise you Demand for office space in Wong Chuk Hang was made clear in October, when a 0.18-hectare piece of commercial land was purchased for HK$2.5 billion after a fierce tendering process involving 24 bidders. At more than HK$8,800 per sq ft, it set a new record for commercial space on Hong Kong Island. Turning the old into the new has been a hallmark of Wong Chuk Hang’s recent transformation. In addition to new land sales, industrial buildings are now being converted into commercial properties. The Ovolo Southside located on Wong Chuk Hang Road was the city’s first warehouse-converted hotel project. The group’s founder Girish Jhunjhnuwala said he had high hopes for the district, and believed it could become Hong Kong’s equivalent to the Meatpacking district in New York or Shoreditch in London with regards to gentrification. Hong Kong MTR’s new South Island Line to run by end of year “There is a lot of character [in Wong Chuk Hang] … the ageing lifts and the lofts featured at industrial blocks have an interesting feel,” he said. “We didn’t want another cookie-cutter design when we came here.” Despite being overlooked for a long time, Jhunjhnuwala said Wong Chuk Hang had everything – it’s close to residential areas such as Shouson Hill and Pok Fu Lam, had plenty of international schools and private clubs to lure talent. But the district’s promising future had come at a cost, district councillor Kevin Tsui Yuen-wa said. Not only have rents doubled over the past two or three years, but the area’s unique “new meets old” character might be lost. “Do we really want more buildings with shiny glass walls?” he asked.