Hong Kong Observation Wheel saved from demolition after deal struck with new operator
After several days of talks, current operator Swiss AEX agrees to hand over control to The Entertainment Corporation
Hong Kong’s waterfront Ferris wheel’s future is secure after a deal was struck between the current and new operator of the attraction on Wednesday evening.
The current operator, Swiss AEX, who lost the rights to operate the Hong Kong Observation Wheel in a retendering of the site to newcomers The Entertainment Corporation, settled its differences after several days of talks, steering the wheel away from the threat of being dismantled.
The Central Harbourfront attraction was closed last week without warning or explanation. It emerged in public statements from both companies that the pair were locked in a dispute over payment issues which caused the sudden shutdown.
Officials had previously expected the wheel to be torn down.
“It’s been a tough day,” Hong Kong businessman Allan Zeman, who was helping mediate the dispute, said. “The good news is everybody wins. Both parties. The people of Hong Kong come out to be a winner now, and Hong Kong can keep its reputation in the world and the wheel will not have to be torn down.”
Zeman said the two companies started their final meeting on Wednesday afternoon and reached a consensus in the evening.
“It’s a win, win, win for everyone but it was not easy,” he added.
“The company is delighted to have reached this point,” a spokesperson for The Entertainment Corporation, said. “It has been a challenging road so far, given there is no precedent for the transfer of the Hong Kong Observation Wheel between operators.”
“Swiss AEX and TECL have worked tirelessly to reach agreement as we both believe this is in the best interests of the Hong Kong community and our tourism industry,” said Timothy Peirson-Smith spokesperson for Swiss AEX.
The next stage will be the completion of due diligence and agreement of the start date of the new tenancy. Only when these and the licensing processes are complete will the Hong Kong Observation Wheel be able to reopen, the joint statement said.
The Development Bureau said it was “pleased” with the agreement and said the government would provide support the lease arrangement.
Harbourfront Commission member Paul Zimmerman said: “It is good for Hong Kong to have an agreement, and to have the central waterfront used for exciting events.”
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Everyone needed to learn from this particular case, Zimmerman said, and called for the creation of an official government body to oversee the development of the harbour to avoid commercial disputes in future.
The negotiations between the current and new operator of the Observation Wheel came down to a game of brinkmanship. “It was not a money thing. That was the craziest thing,” said mediator Zeman.
The reality was if a deal was not struck by Wednesday night, then on Thursday, Swiss AEX would have to tear down the wheel and have until October 31 to finish returning the site to its original state, vacate the land and hand the land back to the government.
If a financial agreement for the current wheel was not made, then the attraction would be dismantled and a replacement wheel sourced. The replacement process could haven taken up to a year, based on the government’s earlier disclosure that a new operator might have to source a new wheel resulting in 12 months of disruption.
Swiss AEX said it was still paying for the wheel’s operating costs, including staff, in the hope that the government would perform a U-turn, allowing the attraction to reopen should TECL fail to fulfil its obligations.