Hong Kong border shopping complex set to open in July – two years behind schedule

Pop-up centre aimed at easing anger against parallel traders will mainly target Hong Kong customers instead of mainland tourists amid decline in visitor arrivals

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 May, 2017, 8:42pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 May, 2017, 10:52pm

A pop-up shopping complex near the border with Shenzhen is finally set to open in July after a two-year delay, mainly luring Hongkongers instead of mainland Chinese tourists as originally planned amid uncertainty about visitor arrivals.

Originally touted as a complex to draw mainland tourists away from North District, it is now targeting 45 per cent of patrons from Hong Kong, 30 per cent from the mainland and the rest tourists from other countries.

Proposed Hong Kong border shopping centre meant to lure mainland China visitors delayed again

Some residents of Sheung Shui in North District were angry about the presence of mainland tourists and parallel traders in their town.

The change of tactics aside, another unresolved issue is the land lease. The plot, which houses the complex called The Boxes, has been leased to the mall owner by Sun Hung Kai Properties and Henderson Land Development only until September next year. But the mall wants interested tenants to sign contracts for two years, up to 2019.

“Initially, we were naive to think that it would be like putting up tents there as if organising a food festival at the harbourfront in Central. This was not the case,” said import and export sector lawmaker Wong Ting-kwong, the mastermind of the project.

“Many unforeseen issues have arisen ... For example, we had to build a power facility to generate electricity.”

Shopping mall over the border won’t ease strain on Hong Kong

Wong came up with the idea several years ago to capitalise on the massive influx of mainland shoppers and traders who bought baby formula and other goods in Hong Kong and sold them across the border for a profit.

Then in 2015, the mainland authorities announced that they would not allow Shenzhen permanent residents to make unlimited trips to Hong Kong any more, capping visits to once a week to deter parallel-goods traders.

Mainland tourist arrivals have since fallen, with only 427 million mainland visitors coming last year, down 6.7 per cent from 2015. The figure rebounded recently with 108 million mainland visitors coming between January and March – up 3.8 per cent year-on-year.

The complex is located on a 420,000 sq ft site in San Tin, Yuen Long. The 214 shop spaces – reserved for restaurants, boutiques, shops selling electronic appliances and others – are made of components that look like containers.

Even though no tenants have signed contracts yet, Wong said the mall had received in excess of 214 applications.

The complex is expected to create about 2,000 jobs.

Wong admitted that the land lease would end in September next year but was confident it would be extended. The operator of the mall, called Well Operation, has secured a HK$120 million bank loan. Its parent company, the San Tin Shopping City Foundation, on which Wong sits, is the guarantor.

North District Parallel Imports Concern Group spokesman Leung Kam-shing said: “I don’t see why local residents will go so far to the complex to buy products they can simply buy near their homes. And why would mainland tourists go shopping there instead of Sha Tin and Sheung Shui?”

The complex is 15 minutes from Sheung Shui and Yuen Long MTR stations for shoppers driving there, but it takes longer by public transport.

With 70 per cent of the site currently open space, concerts and other activities could be held there. Leung said he would be happy if the mall invited well-known singers to perform.