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Fate of Hong Kong Ferris wheel ‘to be known in days’ says mediator and entrepreneur Allan Zeman

Chief Executive Carrie Lam struck more diplomatic tone, saying deal was commercial arrangement and government could not intervene in small dispute

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 September, 2017, 10:38pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 September, 2017, 11:15pm

The fate of Hong Kong’s waterfront Ferris wheel will be known in “days”, according to one of the mediators in the commercial dispute, as Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said the government could not intervene.

With time running out for the Hong Kong Observation Wheel, the old and new operators were not far from a deal, said mediator Allan Zeman, the flamboyant entrepreneur who founded the Lan Kwai Fong nightlife district.

“A deal is being worked on at the moment between the operators and I hope something will work out,” Zeman said. “Hopefully we might see an end to it soon. We’ll know in days.”

Closure of Observation Wheel and uncertain future upset tourists

On Monday night, the government threatened to seize the land on which the wheel sits. The attraction was closed last week without any warning or explanation.

Swiss AEX, the previous operator of the attraction, had earlier lost a new tender exercise to The Entertainment Corp Ltd (TECL), which must operate a wheel but not necessarily the current one. The two companies have been locked in a dispute over payment issues, which contributed to the sudden shutdown.

On Tuesday morning, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor tried to strike a more diplomatic tone, saying the deal over the wheel was a commercial arrangement and the public would not expect her to intervene in a small dispute.

“The government can only act according to the contracts and cannot intervene easily,” Lam said. “We will try our best to help with conciliation and seek a better option.”

Lam stressed the tendering work had been fair, impartial and non-biased.

Paul Zimmerman, a Harbourfront Commission member, said the government could “absolutely not” wash its hands of the fallout, citing the “meticulous” way in which the 2013 and 2016 tender documents were drafted by the government, allowing it to select its preferred bidder.

Bidder for Hong Kong Observation Wheel pledges to lower ticket prices

The two parties are wrangling over a 12.5 million (HK$116 million) payment, according to mediator Zeman.

The original multimillion-euro payment failed to show up in the accounts of Swiss AEX by August 28, prompting claims and counter-claims by both operators, forcing the government’s Development Bureau to issue several strongly-worded statements.

Zeman said losing bidder Swiss AEX was “unhappy about losing the tender”. “I think they’ve adjusted now ... and I think that’s why potentially, hopefully a deal can be reached,” he said.

Speaking at a district council meeting on Tuesday, director of lands Thomas Chan Chung-ching said the government expected the wheel to be dismantled. “We already foresaw this possibility when we re-tendered,” he said.

The Entertainment Corporation said it was “committed” to delivering on the winning bid, including offering a “substantially” lower ticket price per ride for the observation wheel.