Living heritage of Hong Kong

Should the highest bidder redevelop Hong Kong General Post Office site in Central?

Consultants say it should be down to community and political will to choose design that would transform waterfront

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 September, 2017, 8:47pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 September, 2017, 10:12pm

A group of real estate experts and architects in Hong Kong have called on the government to have a better vision and plan for the site of the General Post Office in Central, which will be sold and developed into a commercial complex.

On Wednesday at a forum organised by non-profit land use research group Urban Land Institute, panellists said authorities could work with developers to find the best way to make use of the space for public recreation and connectivity.

This would be a departure from tradition where the highest bidder gets the site, then minimises public space in its design to make the most profit.

“This is assuming that the government is clear in its vision and the kind of public space it wants, including the type of [land use],” said Tom Murphy, a senior resident fellow of the institute who is also the former mayor of Pittsburgh, US.

“[According to how the government] defines the site, this would determine what developers and architects will respond to,” he said.

Murphy cited Pittsburgh as an example, where the government shared the cost with developers in improving features for public use.

A waterfront park in the city with 50 waterfalls on different levels was built under this model, he said.

“Kids can climb on them and play in them ... and there’s this wonderful view of the city, and it’s packed with people on a warm day,” Murphy said.

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“So rather than having a simple little promenade, you begin to think about how to create special places on that promenade. Who pays for that?

Maybe the developer can pay for that because they want that value. Maybe it’s a shared cost. How do you get to that conversation? You don’t get to that conversation by bidding on price,” he said.

“It’s about community and political will.”

The government has planned to sell the 4.76-hectare post office site in Central to private developers for building five commercial buildings with offices and retail spaces.

The existing post office headquarters, opened in 1976, will be demolished with its offices moved to a new eight-storey building to be built in Kowloon Bay, near the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal.

Although the structure is not an officially graded historic building and has been criticised for mediocre architectural value, some have urged the government to reconsider its decision and to conserve the building.

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David Faulkner, an executive director of real estate consultancy Colliers International, said the government was urged to choose developers with the best designs instead of the highest bid.

“That may be a bridge too far, but I know we have a government today that is much more receptive to doing things,” Faulkner said.

Simon Bee, managing director of design firm Benoy, said the site, behind the Central ferry piers and next to the International Finance Centre, a landmark skyscraper, was a “sensational place in a sensational city”.

“Therefore, it deserves the absolute best of everyone’s attention and the best of processes to deliver that,” Bee said.

“Now this could, if done right, catalyse a major part of that waterfront in an incredibly strong way.”