Utilitarian is not necessarily a negative word. Something that is utilitarian is designed to be serviceable and practical. It is not, however, dynamic or unique which is why all the standard clichés in the world will not change the fact that the design for the new Kai Tak Sports Park is not only underwhelming, it is truly utilitarian. “We have created a new benchmark in the world for sports, entertainment and community facilities that are connected in an urban oasis,” said Paul Henry, the senior principal/managing director in Asia-Pacific for Populous, the architecture and design partner in the successful bid from New World Development, at the groundbreaking ceremony last month. “There is nothing like this anywhere in the world, it’s unique .” Except, it’s not. The focal point of the sports park will be the 50,000-seat stadium, whose lacklustre shape and design are almost a complete knock-off of Munich’s Allianz Arena. The losing bid, put forth by Guangzhou R & F Properties, featured a retractable pitch flowing into a harbour amphitheatre framed by a massive glass facade as well as a huge halo scoreboard surrounding the roof opening. But that was always going to be way too ambitious for government engineers and bureaucrats. They went safe on the stadium and the indoor arena next to it because that is the political reality of Hong Kong. The minute the Bangkok Arena opens in 2022, it will be the premier event venue in Asia, if not the world. In fact, what they are in the process of building in Bangkok could revolutionise entertainment and leisure activities globally. Thai mall developer The Mall Group is teaming up with Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), one of the world’s largest sports and entertainment companies, to build two major event venues. A 16,500-seat arena on the periphery of the downtown core will be built on top of the biggest mall in the country, while the second venue, the 6,500-seat Em Live, will go smack dab in the middle of the city incorporated into their innovative and hugely popular EmQuartier/Emporium shopping hub. “We were looking for ways to complement our retail experience,” said Franz Kraatz, chief executive officer of The Mall Group Project Development, and a former resident of Hong Kong for 18 years. “So we had a different idea. Why not fully integrate an entertainment and events centre into a retail concept? “AEG has a track record of offering one-of-a-kind entertainment and sporting experiences and we have a proven history of offering one-of-a-kind retail experience.” Will Kai Tak Sports Park really be the great panacea to solve all of Hong Kong’s sporting ills? Both venues will be completed in late 2022 with a new rapid rail line from the airport hooking up at the Bangkok Mall/Arena in 15 minutes. Considering Bangkok was the most visited city in the world by international travellers for the third year in a row (Hong Kong is 14th), the arenas will have appeal well beyond domestic borders. “The name of the game is to make the venue as flexible as possible,” said Kraatz. “We will have top entertainment acts but we can also host tennis, basketball, Muay Thai, boxing and even Disney on Ice as well. “We have paid attention to make sure the visibility and experience will be 100 per cent perfect. Visibility is everything and both of these arenas are going to be totally fan shaped, as opposed to the standard horseshoe style.” The Bangkok Arena will also feature a massive rooftop entertainment and dining zone and all of it conforming to the highest design standards possible, as opposed to government bureaucrats. “I don’t currently know of any arena that is on top of a mall,” said Kraatz, “and certainly no arena that will be on top of a mall of this scope and size.” Nice. Fantastic. Come visit – and Hongkongers do in droves. However, there are only so many entertainment dollars to go around and this is your new regional competition, Hong Kong. Because the Bangkok project is a private consortium, it’s conception and construction was done in a timely manner. Both Kai Tak and West Kowloon Cultural District kicked around for ages because no one involved with the government wanted responsibility for either. Good, bad or indifferent, that is just the reality of governance in Hong Kong and that’s OK. But what you invariably get is utilitarian, not groundbreaking or a “benchmark”. However, our airport is most definitely among the world’s best so join the 750,000 (2016 figures) who visit Thailand from Hong Kong each year and find out for yourself what a benchmark really looks like.