Concern group unveils alternative plan for over-budget Central Market in Hong Kong

As budget soars to HK$1.5b, cheaper renovation would see 200 stalls rented to small local shops

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 April, 2015, 12:27am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 April, 2015, 12:27am

A concern group has urged the Urban Renewal Authority to go back to basics in revitalising the historic Central Market, putting forward a refurbishment plan that would reduce construction costs to just over HK$700 million.

The Central Market Concern Group unveiled its alternative plan yesterday after the authority warned the project might be scaled down amid a soaring budget to turn the 75-year-old Bauhaus structure by 2017 into a complex of art and culture venues with affordable eating places.

The URA now estimates that the project, announced in 2009 and dubbed the Urban Floating Oasis because of a planned glass structure on top of the market, will cost HK$1.5 billion instead of the original HK$500 million.

Prolonged talks with the Lands Department over the land premium, stringent Buildings Department rules as well as a judicial review challenging the height of the revamped market have held up the project.

The concern group said it would be in the public interest to simply refurbish the market as it was and rent out more than 200 stalls inside to small local shops rather than chain stores.

Culture critic Ada Wong Ying-kay, a co-convenor of the group, said their proposal would be much quicker in bringing the site - vacant since 2003 - back to life.

"The Central Market is a community space, and has been so in the last 80-plus years," Wong said. "It should not become a very expensive shopping mall."

Wong said high rents in Central had made it impossible for small or older shops to survive, and because of this young people also could not showcase their creativity. She believed the group's proposal "made a lot of sense" in terms of financial feasibility and social value.

"I would question whether the public would like to see HK$1.5 billion being spent in revitalising this site and whether it is necessary," she added.

According to the group's analysis, HK$853 million in rent had been lost since the site was handed to the authority.

Edward Yiu Chung-yim, an associate director at Chinese University's Institute of Future Cities, said that if the concern group's proposal was approved, the market could be opened to the public as soon as 2019.

He said the project could make a profit of about HK$37 million a year, assuming an 80 per cent occupancy rate and a 30 per cent rent discount being offered to tenants. Wong also believed the profits could cover long-term maintenance costs.

The group now plans to submit the proposal to the Development Bureau and the URA.