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Old November 21st, 2005, 08:32 PM   #221
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The design is not yet firm. The government wants the canopy to be built, but it is up to the developers to create a business plan and study the feasibility of such a structure. Not all developers had the Foster canopy in the design. One was dropped from the bidding because of the omission.
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Old November 25th, 2005, 06:54 AM   #222
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Pressure increases over cultural hub
Jimmy Cheung
30 December 2004
South China Morning Post

The government will face mounting pressure next week to overhaul the controversial West Kowloon cultural hub project when a motion debate is held in the Legislative Council.

At least four amendments have been proposed to Alan Leong Kah-kit's non-binding motion to remove the single-developer approach and the requirement for a giant canopy on the 40-hectare site.

But political parties have yet to indicate if they will support any amendments relating to the project.

Critics fear the lack of a clear consensus among legislators will give the government an excuse to continue with the much-criticised single-developer approach.

In his motion, Mr Leong, from the Article 45 Concern Group, says the arrangements have failed to ensure the best use of land resources and to safeguard the public interest. He is also demanding that the government use the proceeds from the land sale in West Kowloon to support sustainable policies on arts and culture.

Major political parties seem to agree that the 15-week consultation should be extended to six months and that financial arrangements by individual bidders should be disclosed, as suggested in the original motion. But disputes remain over whether to drop the single-developer approach and the canopy requirement.

An amendment by Cheung Hok-ming of the Democratic Alliance for Betterment of Hong Kong urges the government to review the single-developer and canopy requirements in the light of public views.

Chan Yuen-han, of the Federation of Trade Unions, is tabling an amendment calling for a cultural commission to be set up.

Democrat James To Kun-sun is calling for a statutory commission to implement the project.
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Old November 26th, 2005, 04:19 PM   #223
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LegCo to debate development of the West Kowloon Cultural District
Monday, January 3, 2005
Government Press Release

The following is issued on behalf of the Legislative Council Secretariat:

The Legislative Council will hold a meeting this Wednesday (January 5) at 2.30pm in the Chamber of the Legislative Council Building. During the meeting, Members will debate a motion on development of the West Kowloon Cultural District.

The motion, to be proposed by Hon Alan Leong Kah-kit, says: "That, as the Administration has decided to award the development of the 40-hectare West Kowloon Cultural District ("the WKCD development") to a single consortium in one go and allows the public only 15 weeks to comment on the three proposals selected in the first stage, such course of action has failed to ensure the optimal use of precious land resources in Hong Kong and safeguard public interests while nurturing arts and culture, this Council strongly asks the Administration to:

(a) extend the consultation period to six months to allow sufficient time for public participation;

(b) make public all the proposals submitted to the Government by persons interested in participating in the WKCD development, including information on financial arrangements, so as to enable the public to fully grasp the details of the development proposals during the consultation period;

(c) remove the requirement that the canopy, which requires huge funds to construct, be a mandatory component of the WKCD development;

(d) withdraw the decision to award the entire piece of land together with the WKCD development by way of one single tender, and break the lot into smaller pieces of land for public tender or auction in the market by batches so that small and medium developers in Hong Kong can participate in the development, with a view to maximizing the proceeds from the land sale; and

(e) formulate long-term and sustainable policies on Hong Kong's arts and culture, use the proceeds from the sale of the 40 hectares of land to support and promote the related policies and, in drawing up the specific details and implementing the policies, allow institutionalized participation of the civil society and, in particular, solicit and adopt the views of the local art and cultural sectors."

Hon Cheung Hok-ming, Hon Chan Yuen-han and Hon James To will move separate amendments to Hon Alan Leong Kah-kit's motion.

Members will also debate a motion on the Fourth Report of the Constitutional Development Task Force.

The motion, to be moved by Hon Albert Jinghan Cheng, states: "That this Council expresses deep regret that, in the Fourth Report of the Constitutional Development Task Force published recently, the Government has disregarded public opinion and rejected the demand of the majority of Hong Kong people for the election of the Chief Executive and all Members of the Legislative Council for the next term by universal and equal suffrage, but has failed to put forward a specific proposal; furthermore, as the Government has an unshirkable constitutional duty to answer, as far as possible, the public's strong demand for universal suffrage, this Council urges the Government to expeditiously present to the Council a constitutional reform proposal, which includes the methods for selecting the Chief Executive in 2007 and for forming the Legislative Council in 2008, to facilitate discussion by the public and this Council."

Hon Miriam Lau will move a resolution under the Interpretation and General Clauses Ordinance to extend the period for amending the

(a) Telecommunications (Designation of Frequency Bands subject to Payment of Spectrum Utilization Fee) (Amendment) Order 2004;

(b) Telecommunications (Method for Determining Spectrum Utilization Fees) (Third Generation Mobile Services) (Amendment) Regulation 2004;

(c) Telecommunications (Level of Spectrum Utilization Fees) (Second Generation Mobile Services) Regulation;

(d) Employees' Compensation Ordinance (Amendment of Second Schedule) Order 2004; and

(e) Occupational Safety and Health Ordinance (Amendment of Schedule 2) Order 2004, which were laid on the table of the Legislative Council on 15 December 2004, to the meeting of 2 February 2005.

Meanwhile, the Secretary for the Environment, Transport and Works will move two resolutions under the Interpretation and General Clauses Ordinance to amend the Waste Disposal (Charges for Disposal of Construction Waste) Regulation and the Waste Disposal (Designated Waste Disposal Facility)(Amendment) Regulation 2004, which were laid on the table of the Legislative Council on 3 November 2004.

Hon Choy So-yuk will address the Council on the two regulations.

On bill, the Transfer of Sentenced Persons (Amendment) (Macau) Bill will be introduced into the Council for First and Second Readings. Debate on the bill will be adjourned.

During the meeting, Members will also ask the Administration 20 questions on various policy areas, six of which require oral replies.

The agenda of the above meeting can be obtained via the Legislative Council InfoFax Service (Tel: 2869 9568) or the Legislative Council web site (http://www.legco.gov.hk).

Members of the public are welcome to observe the proceedings of the meeting from the public galleries of the Legislative Council Chamber. They may reserve seats by calling 2869 9399 during office hours. Seats will be allocated on a first-come-first-served basis.
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Old November 28th, 2005, 07:32 PM   #224
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Newbie here. What is the status of the Nina Tower so far?
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Old November 28th, 2005, 08:07 PM   #225
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Quote:
Originally Posted by HeiHuShi
Newbie here. What is the status of the Nina Tower so far?
The Nina Tower thread is not part of WKCD. There's a separate thread for it : http://www.skyscrapercity.com/showth...=104784&page=1
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Old December 1st, 2005, 07:44 AM   #226
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LCQ17: Development of the West Kowloon Cultural District
Wednesday, January 26, 2005
Government Press Release

Following is a question by the Hon Lee Wing-tat and a written reply by the Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands, Mr Michael Suen, in the Legislative Council today (January 26):

Question:

Regarding development of the West Kowloon Cultural District, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether it has, in compliance with the General Conditions set out in the paper released for the Concept Plan Competition for the Development of an Integrated Arts, Cultural and Entertainment District at the West Kowloon Reclamation in Hong Kong ("the Scheme Area"), appointed a team through the normal consultants selection process to finalize a detailed masterplan for the Scheme Area on the basis of the winning conceptual proposals; if such a team has been appointed, of its composition and terms of reference; if not, the reasons for that;

(b) as the General Conditions also stipulate that based on the detailed masterplan, the authorities will then decide on how the Scheme Area will be developed, and that packages within the Scheme Area suitable for private sector development will be decided by public tender, while subsequent architectural design competitions may be conducted for selected individual buildings/facilities, whether the authorities have acted in violation of the General Conditions in issuing the Invitation For Proposals instead of public tender documents for the development of the Scheme Area, and whether they will conduct architectural design competitions for selected individual buildings/facilities; if they will, of the details of the competitions; if they will not, the reasons for that; and

(c) whether it will negotiate with the successful proponent on the development parameters in the proponent's proposal before entering into a provisional agreement; if so, whether the authorities will, in the course of negotiation, impose restrictions on the scope of alterations that may be made to the proposal; if so, of the details of the restrictions?

Reply:

Madam President,

In 2001, the Government held a Concept Plan Competition to invite conceptual proposals for the development of a prominent waterfront area in West Kowloon into an integrated arts, cultural and entertainment district. The General Conditions in the competition documents issued by the Government at that time reflected Government's initial thinking on the development as a reference for interested parties. The Government had not made any decision on the mode and procedures for the development at that time. The competition was completed in 2002, with the international jury selecting the first prize winner, the second prize winner and three honourable mentions. We briefed the Legislative Council Panel on Planning, Lands and Works on the competition results in May 2002.

My reply to the three-part question is as follows:

(a) The Government did not engage a team of consultants to finalise a detailed masterplan for the Scheme Area on the basis of the winning conceptual proposals because, after taking into account the planning concepts of the winning entries, the Steering Committee for the Development of the West Kowloon Cultural District (Steering Committee) was of the view that the West Kowloon Cultural District (WKCD) should be developed in an integrated manner with the inclusion of commercial and residential elements. This development mode was adopted with a view to tapping the financial resources of the private sector for construction of the WKCD and to manage and operate the WKCD facilities on a self-financing basis. To achieve this objective, the Steering Committee considered that the private sector with its commercial knowledge and experience would be better placed to formulate the masterplan than a team of consultants appointed by the Government. In adopting this mode of development, the need to expedite the development of the WKCD as far as possible had also been taken into account so as to meet the pressing public demand for arts and cultural facilities and to create employment opportunities. The Steering Committee therefore decided to invite the private sector to submit masterplans based on the design concept of the first prize winner and to submit proposals for the development, operation and financial arrangements of the whole WKCD. Accordingly, the Steering Committee considered the engagement of a consultant to work on a detailed masterplan for WKCD not necessary.

(b) The Government did not adopt the tendering method. Instead, the Government issued the Invitation for Proposals to invite development proposals from the private sector because the Steering Committee, after taking the winning entries as reference, decided to adopt a community-driven approach whereby the private sector would be responsible for the development and operation of the WKCD. Having regard to the scale and the complexity of the project, it was believed that sufficient flexibility should be built into the process to allow the Government to negotiate with the proponents who were interested in the development and operation of the WKCD, in order that the Government could select a proposal that would best meet public aspirations and which was in the best public interest. Traditional tendering could not provide the desired flexibility. The Invitation for Proposals was endorsed by the Steering Committee in May 2003. Subsequently, we briefed the Executive Council on the plan to issue the Invitation for Proposals and, before issuing the Invitation for Proposals, submitted a progress report on the development of the WKCD to the Legislative Council Panel on Planning, Lands and Works in July 2003 setting out Government's decision to invite interested developers to submit proposals. In general, we received positive response from Members at the meeting on the various arrangements set out in the progress report.

According to the Invitation for Proposals, proponents are required to submit proposals for the development of the whole WKCD, including overall and individual building designs. As a result the Government did not conduct architectural design competition for individual buildings or facilities.

(c) The Government is assessing in detail the proposals which met the mandatory requirements set out in the Invitation for Proposals. At the same time the Government is consulting the public on these proposals and will take into account public views collected. In the next stage, the Government will shortlist proponent(s), and negotiate with the shortlisted proponent(s) with a view to improving the proposal(s) before selecting the preferred proposal. We will strive for a proposal which is in the best interest of the public before signing a provisional agreement with the selected proponent. We will take into account public views and the results of the assessment before finalising the details of the negotiations.
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Old December 9th, 2005, 05:40 AM   #227
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Art and the hard sell
Following their bids for the West Kowloon land rights, developers have discovered a sudden interest in bringing culture to the people, writes Clarence Tsui
3 January 2005
South China Morning Post

WHEN HENDERSON ArtReach's roadshow of Lui Shou-kwan ink paintings ends today, it will have travelled a distance even seasoned curators would find daunting. Shunning malls and halls, the exhibition has ventured to some of Hong Kong's most far-flung public housing estates, in what the property developer claims is an attempt to give the public "a broader range of opportunities to marvel at great works of art".

Not that many have risen to the occasion, however: the exhibition has hardly been a well-attended event, what with venues that even those living nearby would hardly consider accessible. The exposition, housed in three 20-foot containers that the organisers have christened a "Mobile Art and Culture Exhibition Unit", has set up in some of the more deserted backyards of the housing complexes. If not for the glaring logos on the outside of the containers, passers-by could have been forgiven for thinking of them as makeshift construction-site offices.

For nine-year-old Law Ka-chun, the containers were attractive because "there are computers to play with" - a reference to the interactive games in a makeshift education centre in one of them. Law is one of the few who visited the exhibition during its week in Yau Oi Estate, a 15-minute walk from Tuen Mun town centre. He's been to the exhibition twice and, after completing a highly satisfying session with his classmates trying his hand at ink painting, he was promising to go back. But he was at a loss when asked what the exhibition was about. "I don't know what it is," the primary student said.

The exhibition mostly counts curious schoolchildren among its visitors, usually passing by on their way home. Most converge on the educational centre, where experienced artists wait every day in the hope of engaging them in an art form as foreign to the children as surrealism. "We had a much busier time when the exhibition was at Oi Man Estate, with all the schools nearby," says veteran artist Leung Kui-ting. As one of Lui's disciples and a main mover in the local scene - he is director of the Hong Kong Chingying Institute of Visual Arts and also an active member of the Hong Kong Ink Society - he was among a handful of ink painters Henderson invited to give a human presence to the exhibition.

"We're here to explain what the paintings mean and how people can relate to them - for example, to tell people what the swaths of black and blotches of red mean in this painting," Leung says, referring to Lui's Zen Painting, one of the key works in the exhibition. "The biggest reward we could have is to lead people in acknowledging Hong Kong's own artistic heritage. We don't have da Vinci [paintings], and we don't have a collection like The Palace Museum's [in Beijing] - but we have our own ink painters."

Given Lui's legacy as one of Hong Kong's first "homegrown" artists - the painter's career took off only after the then 28-year-old moved to Hong Kong in 1948 - general indifference to his work must have pained Leung. "We shouldn't be looking at concrete results in doing these community-driven cultural events - the most important thing is that we put our words about arts education into action and go to the masses," he says. "Never underestimate the consequences of the 10 minutes these children spent here - it might affect them for the next 30 years."

Whether ink painting will remain in the lives of Tuen Mun schoolchildren is questionable, but one thing might: Henderson Land's name, which was emblazoned across the containers and the handouts given to visitors.

It might be churlish to dismiss the developer's enthusiasm in art as merely cynical, but the sudden interest in launching such exhibitions coincided perfectly with the corporation's bid for the land rights to the West Kowloon Cultural District, the wide strip west of Tsim Sha Tsui that promises to be as much an arts hub as prime land for lavish apartment blocks.

With a view to capturing what is easily the most profitable development project in Hong Kong in recent years, the three bidders - World City Culture Park (Henderson's venture), Dynamic Star (a joint collaboration between Cheung Kong and Sun Hung Kai), and Sunny Development (engineered by Sino Land, Wharf Holdings and Chinese Estates) - are in top gear, serenading all parties about their own proposals - and their aim to be cultured, caring and socially conscious entrepreneurs.

On one side, bidders strove to recruit sympathisers among local artists, social commentators and journalists whose voices add to the credibility of their own projects. Theatre companies, dance troupes and visual art collectives - all vying for a foothold in the vast cultural complexes the project promises to deliver - are all signed up as what they call "strategic partners".

The distance the developers have gone to pursue approval from the community is telling. Bearing in mind the consequences of a public backlash - as evident in New World Development's decision not to pull down Hunghom Peninsula after widespread public disapproval - developers now know of the importance for a mandate among the electorate.

The focus for this jockeying for public acceptance is on display at the Special Exhibition Hall at the Hong Kong Science Museum where, since December 16, the details of the three bids have been laid out. Visitors move among teams of slick-talking guides, employed by corporations to talk about the individual projects. Videos of celebrity endorsements compete with three-dimensional computer simulation programmes about grand cultural complexes. The public are invited to vote for the presentation they like best - and in the process join a draw from which 100 winners will be given a year's worth of visits to government-run museums.

Away from the media-savvy frenzy at the Science Museum, the ArtReach roadshow represents another aspect of Henderson's campaign for mass approval. The company has spent much in refurnishing the cargo containers into a short-term art gallery but somehow the exhibition pales into insignificance compared with the Science Museum show. At Tuen Mun, for example, the containers are dumped on a remote plot on the edge of Yau Oi Estate.

Leung says he's knows why art suddenly found favour among property developers. "I know [Henderson] is pursuing something on the back of this and if not for that, this exhibition wouldn't have happened. I don't care what other people are running after - I'm just glad that ink painting can get its rightful place in Hong Kong," he says, pointing to Henderson's promise of establishing a museum for the art form - the first of its kind in the world.

Leung and fellow artist Cheng Ming, who also works as a guide at the Lui exhibition, see no problem in getting patronage from property tycoons. Leung points to the way companies such as Hong Kong Land and Swire attributed a certain amount of their budget in acquiring and promoting art.

Traditional property developers have woken up to this way of generating good publicity among an increasingly sophisticated population. Henderson ArtReach has three other mobile exhibitions that are set to follow the Lui Shou-kwan show, bringing ink paintings by other renowned local artists to places as far as Tin Yiu Estate in Yuen Long and Tsz Lok Estate in Tsz Wan Shan. Dynamic Star, meanwhile, continues its seminars featuring its international partners; and Sunny Development wants to sponsor Hong Kong Arts Festival events to earmark its contribution to local cultural events.

While Leung expects a blossom of patronage and sponsorship in the light of West Kowloon, other artists and curators express grave doubts about this onslaught of interest from property developers.

Oscar Ho Hing-kay, former exhibition director of the Hong Kong Arts Centre and chairman of the Hong Kong chapter of the International Art Critics Association, describes the publicity campaigns which arose from the West Kowloon bids as "merely the making of noises". "At one time they'll be talking about doing something about Cantonese opera, the next it will be ink paintings, and then an art auction - it's just schizophrenic talk," he says. "How will all these activities reflect Hong Kong culture? How do they, as operators of this cultural district, assess our cultural needs? That's not much rationale and vision. At the end of the day, art lost out - it became a big load of public relations activities."

Ho is among a sizeable contingent of cultural commentators who are dismayed by the showcase at the Science Museum as well as programmes such as Henderson's ArtReach. "It's all purely done for the sensation," he says of the exhibition of layouts in Tsim Sha Tsui. "Developers are devoted to build the best building that can make them the most money for stockholders - asking them to sincerely promote art is a mismatch."

Lo King-man, artistic consultant to Henderson and former head of the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, says the ArtReach project is not set up to "facilitate the West Kowloon project", but is related to what the company wants to achieve in West Kowloon.

"Physically, there's no relation to the bid - it's just that, conceptually, we want the public to know that Henderson regards highly the needs of the people of Hong Kong and also of local artists," he says. "It is about letting them know what our attitude towards art is if we are successful in the bid."
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Old December 9th, 2005, 05:42 AM   #228
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Developers gather for West Kowloon summit
Freda Wan in Macau and Chloe Lai
6 January 2005
South China Morning Post

Property developers will hold an emergency meeting tomorrow over the controversial West Kowloon cultural district project, amid a new call for it to be split up.

Disclosing that he had called about 20 members to the meeting, Real Estate Developers Association chairman Stanley Ho Hung-sun said the government should split the site into pieces and relax bidding conditions to allow more developers to participate.

"When there is rice, everybody gets to eat," he said.

Two of the three short-listed bidders for the site, Henderson Land and the Sino Land and Wharf consortium, last night said they would attend the meeting.

Small developers have hotly opposed the government plan to award the 40-hectare site to one developer to build and manage the facilities for 30 years.

"West Kowloon is the best piece of land left in Hong Kong," Mr Ho said. "At this meeting, I will voice my views as chairman on how we should deal with this plot of land, and then I'll listen to the views of the other committee members.

"I have always opposed giving the opportunity to only one person. When there is rice, everybody gets to eat. That is my motto, whether in Hong Kong or in Macau."

The news came as legislators last night debated a motion moved by independent lawmaker Alan Leong Kah-kit, which called for the government to drop the single-developer approach, remove the giant canopy as a required feature and reveal all financial details of the bidders' proposals.

"There is already a consensus from the public that they do not like the single-developer plan," he said.

Debate will continue today on the motion, which is expected to win support from the Democrats, Liberals and some independents.
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Old December 9th, 2005, 05:43 AM   #229
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Art for whose sake?
The West Kowloon hub overshadows the need for more events at grassroots level

Hiram To
13 January 2005
South China Morning Post

FASHION COMES and goes, and in Hong Kong, where celebrity performers are generally referred to as "artists", culture looks set to be big business this year.

In a town where the population is reared on television soaps and Canto-pop, the sudden rush of enthusiasm from property consortiums and the public for all things artsy, brought on by the government's desire to transform the West Kowloon site into a future arts hub, is both encouraging and worrying.

The catalyst for this newfound faith in culture - prime waterfront land - represents a lot more than real estate profits and total retail space. We are mapping out our future, and West Kowloon has to be built now, so we are told.

Imagine the benefits: the Norman Foster-designed sky canopy soaring above world-class museums; millions of tourists marvelling at the architectural feat and, finally, our appreciative offspring reaping the benefits of our spiritual wisdom.

So far, much of the discussion about the site has centred around the economic viability of the canopy, what museums to build and how many luxury apartments should be permitted. Interest groups tell us we must have a specialist museum housing ink paintings. Chinese opera advocates say they must have a theatre devoted to the craft. And Anita Mui's mother wants a museum to commemorate her daughter's contribution to the arts.

But let us not be naive that our arts and culture are at stake here.

Hong Kong has its orchestras and ballets, drama groups and Chinese operas, festivals and exhibitions. If the West Kowloon hub ends up a fizzer, these will still be around.

Just as the project's materialisation may not necessarily see the arts flourish or improve, its absence will not see them die either. What the project speaks of is Hong Kong's need for more attractions to attract the tourist dollar. Potential business deals of all kinds are waiting to be struck. But it seems likely that those who are supposedly the drivers of culture - the artists - will be the among the last to benefit.

SWith the government's patchy record of arts advocacy over the past decades, and Hong Kong's biggest property consortiums previously showing little or no interest in the arts previously, one can hardly blame the arts sector for being up in arms.

With Hong Kong's rapidly changing political climate, it is difficult to predict the eventual outcome of the West Kowloon project. But one thing is sure, it takes more than transplanting large sculptures or importing international museum brand names to justify the site's existence.

It is a sad reality that the new year brings little to shout about in the local arts scene. The many arts festivals in Hong Kong have either run out of steam (and sponsorship money) or have resorted to presenting lacklustre formulaic programmes. These festivals may attract audiences wanting to stock up on their annual dose of culture, but their impact on, and relevance to, the artistic community is minimal.

On the visual arts front, Art Port, the international exhibition organised by the Hong Kong Arts Development Council, which was supposed to bring overseas curators and professionals to Hong Kong in December, was cancelled. There was no official explanation.

One baffling exhibition, "Building Hong Kong Redwhiteblue", at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum until April 18, uses the tri-coloured polyethylene material commonly seen as storage carriers for inspiration. The 20 works are supposed to communicate the positive spirit of Hong Kong. It takes more than a leap of faith to visualise downmarket plastic sheeting as a metaphor for the strong work ethic of the 1960s/70s Hong Kong generation.

The accompanying text says the sheeting evokes memories of grandparents and old Hong Kong, a claim that is out of sync with a material that made its first appearance in the city during the 1980s. Let us hope 2005 brings us better offerings.

Hiram To is an artist and curator
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Old December 9th, 2005, 07:39 AM   #230
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Leong calls for Legco special panel to investigate West Kowloon project
Paris Lord
18 January 2005
Hong Kong Standard

Legislator Alan Leong has called for the creation of a Legislative Council special committee to probe the proposed West Kowloon Cultural District project.

Leong, a barrister and member of the Article 45 Concern Group, wrote to house committee chairman Miriam Lau on Saturday, arguing the controversial project ought to be thoroughly scrutinized by lawmakers.

He said on Monday the project is too important to be examined by the Legco panel on planning, lands and works because it also has public finance, cultural and possibly environmental implications. Leong's proposal follows an attempt begun last week by pan-democrats to invoke the Legislative Council (Powers and Privileges) Ordinance to force the government to disclose the financial details and statements for the three shortlisted developers bidding for the 40-hectare project.

The developers are Dynamic Star, a joint venture comprising Sun Hung Kai and Li Ka-shing's Cheung Kong Holdings; Sino Land, Wharf Holdings and Chinese Estates Holdings under the Sunny Development consortium; and Henderson Land, the sole company behind the World City Cultural Park.

On January 6, lawmakers passed a rare motion calling on the government to scrap its plan that a single developer construct the project, which includes a giant, transparent canopy covering at least 55 per cent of the area.

The project's leading proponent, Chief Secretary for Administration Donald Tsang, has refused to back down, arguing if it is scrapped, it will take years before it can be replanned and implemented.

The Real Estate Developers Association, whose members are property tycoons, earlier this month also criticized the single-developer plan.

Leong said that following the January 6 motion, he believes a special committee is needed to monitor the project.

The committee would resemble one recently set up to combat poverty.

He has received confirmation from Legco that the secretariat is considering his request, adding he will get a reply soon.

``In my view, it really cries out for a special committee that would allow all councillors who are interested in following up on the subject to participate,'' Leong said.

There is no limit to the number of lawmakers who could sit on the committee, should it be created.
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Old December 9th, 2005, 07:41 AM   #231
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Cross-party support for committee to monitor West Kowloon
Sylvia Hui
22 January 2005
Hong Kong Standard

The government can expect more politicalhurdles if it presses ahead with the controversial HK$40 billion West Kowloon project.

The Legislative Council has agreed to appoint a special committee to monitorall stages of the project.

Proposed by Article 45 Concern Group lawmaker Alan Leong, the subcommitteewill scrutinize all issues ranging from culture to finance.

"Most legislators are highly concernedabout West Kowloon and it appears a consensus has been reached,'' Leong said on Friday. "A special committeeis to be set up to study the whole project.''

Leong's proposal has the support of the Democratic Party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong (DAB), the Liberal Party and the Alliance.

Dates for meetings and membership have yet to be determined.

The move follows a rare united front of legislators earlier this month, when they passed a motion decrying the government's approach to developing West Kowloon. That motion, also moved by Leong, urged the government to drop the single-developer approach, to extend the public consultation period from 15 weeks to six months, to reveal the financial arrangements of the shortlisted bidders and to remove the mandatory requirement of having a huge canopy.

Meanwhile, the Hong Kong Instituteof Architects has proposed an alternative approach for West Kowloon,under which the 40-hectare site will be developed in phases.

The proposal calls for more prominent involvement of the Town Planning Board in drawing an outline zoning plan and new plot ratios for the district, after which the project will be tendered in different stages.

"The alternative approach will draw up uniform requirements for all bidders. It also eliminates many technical uncertainties because the project is not awarded to one developer at once, but to different ones in different stages,'' institute president Bernard Lim said.

The new approach means the whole project could take a long time to complete,but Lim said there is no hurry to meet any deadline.

"Ours is a cautious approach and takes time,'' Lim said.
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Old December 10th, 2005, 04:35 AM   #232
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Single developer may be best for West Kowloon project
The multiple tender approach for the controversial cultural complex could present quite a few problems

26 January 2005
South China Morning Post

Public participation means citizen power in the form of citizen control, but it is sometimes seen as another form of power bargaining.

Public participation in developments can be a lengthy process, often resulting in a compromise, rather than an optimum solution. The West Kowloon Reclamation Project debate is a classic example.

Many say that the government should divide the site under a master plan for greater public involvement and allow more developers to generate higher revenues and use the proceeds to build cultural facilities.

However, the single design developer approach has several merits from a professional urban design point of view, such as allowing a single coherent design. The controversial canopy will ensure there will be no obstructive high-rises that create a canyon effect on either side of Victoria Harbour, which many people want to preserve.

Also, the canopy and integrated urban places could become an attractive international landmark comparable to the Eiffel Tower and the Sydney Opera House.

Furthermore, the winning developer would be expected to provide the internal financing, cross subsidies and development phasing to create the necessary critical mass and to bear the risks.

The multiple-tender approach, on the other hand, may be more equitable but could present problems, and the result may not be want what the people want.

If the same outside zoning plan land use control approach was adopted, this project may end up as another piecemeal development, like Tsim Sha Tsui East and the adjacent West Kowloon Station development.

Also, the multiple tender approach is likely to offer a higher plot ratio for the individual parcels and would most certainly result in undesirable tall buildings and slab walls. The higher land premium generated is hardly justification for a less than desirable environment and city image.

Worst of all, the final product could not be known, under the current land auction system awarded to the highest bidder based on lease conditions, as there would be no committed final design for the public to review.

Given the controversial nature of the West Kowloon Reclamation Project, the government should modify the single design/developer approach to overcome basic objections, and fall back on multiple tenders only if necessary.

A new competitive design/price tender to select a single design/developer should ensure that the government sets the same plot ratio and all requirements for the project at, say, 2.5, and all entries are first judged on their urban design merits (based on given criteria), and then on their tender price as follows:

The design and price tenders be awarded on a point system, say 80 per cent for design merits and 20 per cent on price;

Or the best designs be awarded on the average of the three highest tendered prices as the accepted market price (if the best design is not also the highest bidder);

The selected single master developer may identify some parcels for other developers to participate in, based on the accepted master plan;

All concerned groups could recommend their tender selection criteria;

The winning developer could also form a reit on the project to offer shares for the public under a joint management company.

Ho Chi-wing is an assistant professor with the Urban Design Department at the University of Hong Kong
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Old December 10th, 2005, 04:37 AM   #233
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AmCham chief is all for transparency
West Kowloon cultural hub is a litmus test for the government, according to the organisation's new chairman

Dennis Eng
29 January 2005
South China Morning Post

The government should improve transparency in its dealings to help allay public perceptions of collusion between the public sector and big business, according to the American Chamber of Commerce's new chairman.

"It's good that the government is explaining what happened with Cyberport. But as to whether the government should have done so earlier, I don't know," Jon Zinke said.

Mr Zinke, a 51-year-old maritime lawyer, added that he had read Secretary for Commerce, Industry and Technology John Tsang Chun-wah's published explanation about the controversial Cyberport project, which was awarded to the Pacific Century Group without a competitive tendering process.

The chairman, who was elected this month, noted that the report helped to shed light on a number of aspects of the deal that many had been unaware of.

Mr Zinke also stressed that government efforts to present a more accessible public face would not be in vain "as long as the process is transparent".

He cited the mammoth West Kowloon cultural district project as a key litmus test for the government.

"I would like to see it done in a transparent way and without any hidden agendas," he said.

Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa broached the issue for the first time when he delivered his policy address this month.

In the address, he stated that his administration was resolutely against "collusion between business and the government" and would seek to eliminate any "transfer of benefits".

Recent public demonstrations have increasingly focused on collusion concerns and fairness in governance.

"I think Hong Kong is a mature society," Mr Zinke said, adding that he was impressed to see protest demonstrations being held peacefully in Hong Kong. "There are more demonstrations now than there were before 1997," he noted.

He pointed out that people might be more likely to voice their concerns and opinions as taxpayers, since "people feel more entitled to express their views on how their money should be spent".

The government is studying possible ways to broaden the tax base, including the introduction of a goods and services tax. The chamber is against such a consumption tax.

"If you don't have to pay taxes, you tend to become disenfranchised. So this move goes hand-in-hand with political reform," he added.

Despite the various recent controversies, Mr Zinke, who has lived in Hong Kong since 1985, believes that there are few issues now that give the city international attention.

He expects the US to continue to be interested in Hong Kong and to monitor the situation here but that, compared to the lead-up to the handover in 1997, "Hong Kong is, to some extent, off the radar now".

While he is happy to see international scrutiny of Hong Kong subside, the opening of the first Disney theme park in China on September 12 and the hosting of the World Trade Organisation ministerial meeting in December will draw some attention to the city.

"I'm happy that Disneyland is opening here. It will keep Hong Kong on the map," said Mr Zinke.

However, he warned the Liberal Party's revival of a proposal to develop a casino industry here would "drastically change people's perception of Hong Kong".

He questioned whether Hong Kong should do what Macau has done.

"People would come to Hong Kong because of Disneyland. But would people think of Hong Kong for its casinos?"
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Old December 15th, 2005, 07:05 AM   #234
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Culture crush
Hong Kong's performing arts community sees the West Kowloon project as the long overdue solution to their woes.

But, so far, there's no word they'll be included
30 January 2005
South China Morning Post

THERE'S A STORY that the Hong Kong Philharmonic's artistic director and chief conductor Edo de Waart likes to tell, no matter how many times the interviewer may have heard it before. "Back in my mid-20s, I was an assistant to [the late Leonard] Bernstein at the New York Philharmonic," says the 64-year-old Dutchman. "He took us to a room and showed us an enormous hole in the ground next door. We were standing in the Lincoln Centre and the hole was what was going to be [the] Julliard [School]. Bernstein said, 'This building will not make sense until that building is finished.' It's been almost 40 years, but I still remember that."

De Waart borders on waxing sentimental when talking about the empty hole that became the centre of New York City's arts scene, a place where arts education and professional performances come together. He's noticeably less glowing when talking about the giant hole in Hong Kong's cultural infrastructure that is going to become the proposed West Kowloon Cultural Development (WKCD).

De Waart, along with just about everyone else in the local arts community, hopes the development will become a central meeting point for various performing and arts education groups, which are scattered all over the city. It was an idea he first proposed in an interview with the South China Morning Post in May. "I see the Philharmonic, the Sinfonietta, the opera, the ballet and the Academy for Performing Arts under one roof," he says again. "Then, we'll be a force to be reckoned with."

Nine months and lots of squabbling after de Waart's first pronouncement, and there's still no certainty that he'll get his wish. For him, it's a sign that the WKCD isn't going the way it should. "If the HKPO and the APA aren't represented in West Kowloon, it will be a catastrophe," he says. "It's not right. Many of the proposed designs don't even have a proper concert hall."

Much of the discussion about West Kowloon has centred around museums - not performance venues - largely because of big-budget charm offensives by France's Pompidou Centre and the multi-national, New York-based Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, both of which are vying for a part of Hong Kong's fancy new arts hub.

"Because there's no big overseas performing group involved, the focus is on the visual arts," says Yip Wing-sie, artistic director and chief conductor of the Hong Kong Sinfonietta, the city's other full-sized professional symphony orchestra. Although Yip thinks it might be overly ambitious to have all the city's performing groups under one roof, she says the cultural hub could be used to streamline and centralise the operations of Hong Kong's many scattered performance groups, which all share a multitude of venues. "It's a good, practical, convenient, cost-efficient idea," she says. "Everyone wants a home base."

Yip says running an orchestra in Hong Kong is like going on tour - only in one city. "Our administration, PR and human resources are taken care of in Wan Chai. Half of our musical library is in Yau Ma Tei. Our rehearsal space, which we sometimes don't have access to, is upstairs on the eighth floor of the Cultural Centre [in Tsim Sha Tsui]. Then, let's say we perform in City Hall in Central. Imagine the waste of human resources when we have to send an entire orchestra and staff running here there and everywhere to organise one concert. The West Kowloon space is definitely big enough that it can hold a small office, library and hall for us, and other groups to use."

Yip says the problem isn't only practical, it's also artistic. "Let's say we practise in Tsim Sha Tsui, but perform in Central. Suddenly, all the acoustics change, so the entire orchestra has to adjust its playing at the last minute," she says.

And she says the Sinfonietta isn't alone. The Hong Kong Ballet is based in Happy Valley, but performs mostly in Kowloon. The city's two opera companies don't have dedicated venues. A couple of medium-sized performance halls in the West Kowloon site could alleviate a city-wide venue problem, and probably ease the in-fighting, as well. "When we book a space at the Cultural Centre, we have to compete with all the other groups in the city, as well as overseas groups, even just for practice space," says Yip.

"When the Phantom of the Opera came for three months several years ago, every arts group in town was complaining," she says. "It's not that we don't like musicals or rock concerts - it's just that there isn't enough space to go around. Having good performing venues in West Kowloon will give us more options."

If one group has to go through so much trouble just to put on a concert, imagine the logistical nightmare involved in putting on a multi-faceted performance - for example, a fully staged opera that includes an orchestra, a chorus and a ballet troupe, not to mention props, costumes and lighting.

Yip agrees that properly designed West Kowloon music halls would "allow for more joint productions". This is important to her because the Sinfonietta has stepped up its staged productions of late. In December and January, the company performed La Traviata with Opera Hong Kong and The Nutcracker with the Hong Kong Ballet. In September, it was Faust, with the Opera Society of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Dance Company.

Equally important are co-productions between professionals and students - a key to the success of Hong Kong's new generation. In New York, students at Julliard are encouraged to put on short half-time shows at the next-door Lincoln Centre, allowing them to perform in the same space many of their teachers use. There's nothing like that happening in Hong Kong, but many top musicians work part time as teachers - at local schools or even in homes. Arts education could be given a big boost simply by having these teachers and students working in one place.

"If the Academy [for Performing Arts] moves to West Kowloon, too, or even just has a presence there, students will be able to watch their own professors rehearse," says Yip. "Or even just watch a ballet or drama practice, even if it's not directly related to their field."

The academy's director Kevin Thompson says the advantages for students of "rubbing shoulders with top professionals on a daily basis can't be denied. Bringing together the performing arts makes a great deal of sense. Symbiosis between professional groups and practice-based educational groups is far from new.

"There are places in the US and Australia called arts parks, which are cultural institutes and colleges that are grouped around a common campus," Thompson says. "We have some of the constituents of this already within the planning at West Kowloon.

"What excites me is not simply the physical proximity of institutions and activities - valuable as that is - but rather greater connectivity with a rapidly developing creative and knowledge-based society."

Whether the talk is about joint productions or education, the focus is on using West Kowloon to build the local cultural scene internally, as opposed to flying in expensive shows from overseas. Nowhere is this feeling more obvious than in the debate about what sort of performance venue should be built. It appears that there'll be a small performance hall suitable for overseas cash cows - the likes of Phantom or Mamma Mia! - but no proper concert hall for full orchestra or other performances.

"All the musicals will be flown in from outside and the money spent will be like a shot in the dark," says de Waart. "It's taxpayers' money, and it's only good for the couple of nights that the performance is on. This sort of entertainment is good, but it does nothing for the development of Hong Kong's art scene.

Yip agrees. "You also have to work on the software, such as creative good local programmes and local audience development," she says. "Hong Kong needs to make its own thing. And if we do, then West Kowloon can have much potential. In the future, it can have many different cultural elements and attract tourists, the way London's West End or New York's Broadway does."

Hong Kong Arts Festival executive director Douglas Gautier says large-scale arts complexes "do help to stimulate wider interest in the arts within a city - and sometimes from the tourism sector. There's something to be said for having some resident companies and creating a context which encourages creative collaboration between them.

"I do think there's a need for a government approach that would incorporate the arts, education, planning, and tourism. This will ensure we can provide first-rate programmes, as well as consistently strong audiences willing to enjoy them."
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Old December 15th, 2005, 07:07 AM   #235
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West Kowloon on mega-rail agenda
Cultural hub station figures in KCRC rethink of cross-border link strategy
Denise Tsang
11 February 2005
South China Morning Post

The controversial West Kowloon cultural district may house the terminus of a proposed regional express line linking Hong Kong with Shenzhen and Guangzhou, under an alignment being worked on by the Kowloon-Canton Railway Corp.

"Terminating the rail line at West Kowloon is definitely on the Hong Kong government's agenda," a source familiar with the rail link's planning told the South China Morning Post.

"A site has been reserved for a mega terminus even though plans for it have not been finalised yet."

Under the government's 2000 rail strategy blueprint, the regional express line - designed to reduce travel time between Hong Kong and Guangzhou from 90 minutes to less than an hour - was to be developed along KCRC's congested East Rail track and terminate at Hunghom station, at a cost of $13 billion to $17 billion.

However, disappointing passenger numbers along the KCRC's new West Rail, linking Tuen Mun in the northwest New Territories to Nam Cheong station in Shamshuipo, have caused the government to rethink its original strategy.

The Environment, Transport and Works Bureau, headed by Sarah Liao Sau-tung, now favours building a rail bypass for the regional express line between the Lok Ma Chau border checkpoint and Kam Sheung Road station, where it can continue along the West Rail to West Kowloon.

"The West Kowloon option will minimise new investment by leveraging West Rail assets and eliminate the hassle of building a new rail track along the already developed East Rail," the source said.

Sources close to the project said the central government had recently sent a directive to Guangzhou and Shenzhen officials involved in the rail link's planning, informing them that it should end in West Kowloon.

However, mainland officials have further complicated discussions by again raising the possibility of using magnetic levitation (maglev) technology for the regional express line.

This strategy had been shelved given the expense and limited proven experience of the technology.

"The Hong Kong government has been avoiding the maglev proposal," another source said. "It would be so expensive that it can't see the prospect of the project ever making money."

Uncertainty over the West Kowloon cultural district, whose single-developer tender has sparked a political firestorm, and a pending merger of KCRC with MTR Corp are also hanging over the regional express link.

Others have expressed concern over the new West Rail routing for the regional express line.

"We already have two MTR rail lines in West Kowloon - the Tung Chung line and Airport Express - and also the KCRC's West Rail line and the Kowloon Southern rail link project," said Henry Chan Man-yu, chairman of the Yau Tsim Mong District Council.

"But MTR and KCR stations in West Kowloon are not interconnected."

"The government should be looking at how to better link up existing networks rather than building a new line to rescue another," Mr Chan said.

"West Rail's [current] Nam Cheong terminus is a joke.

"It is bigger than Central MTR station even though it basically serves the Nam Cheong public housing estate, where 70 per cent of residents are on welfare."
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Old December 15th, 2005, 06:58 PM   #236
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Call for land sales transparency
Academics say the furore over Cyberport and West Kowloon shows the government needs to regain public confidence
Peggy Sito and Foster Wong
16 February 2005
South China Morning Post

Transactions in the most valuable of Hong Kong commodities - land - are seen by some as a friendly arrangement between government and big business.

Academics observing the claims and counterclaims between various parties say that, while the policy is fair, there is room to enhance transparency in the execution process, especially for ad hoc projects, and that this will help restore public confidence in the administration.

But they warn that greater transparency will undermine the government's administrative efficiency, blunting Hong Kong's competitive edge over nearby mainland cities and Macau.

Land auctions so far this financial year have generated $18.5 billion for the government - surpassing the $12 billion estimated for the whole year. But the government has come under criticism for the way it handled Cyberport and the West Kowloon cultural district project.

In 2000, the government awarded development rights for Cyberport in Pokfulam to PCCW, owned by Richard Li Tzar-kai, without open tender.

In the latest controversy, the government wants to award the estimated $40 billion West Kowloon project to one developer to build and manage for 30 years.

Democrats believe the two projects are clear evidence of the government's policy bias in favour of large developers, even going as far as to say there is potential for collusion between business and government officials.

Alan Leong Kah-kit, of the Article 45 Concern Group, urged the government to sell land by auction but to avoid private negotiations.

He called for enhanced transparency in calculating the land premiums that developers are charged for changes in land use.

Under the land policy, all land in Hong Kong is leased or owned by the government, with all leases expiring after June 30, 2047 - 50 years after the handover. The government sells or grants land to the private sector through public sale and private treaty. Developers wanting to change land use can do so, but have to pay a premium reflecting the difference between the "before" and "after" value of the land.

In response to talk of big business and government officials being far too cosy, Deputy Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands Thomas Tso Man-tai said the government had already adopted a land sale system aimed at minimising interference in the market. He said the government was stepping up efforts to allow the public to take part in city planning.

The government introduced the application list system in 1999. "The move is aimed at moving land supply towards a market-driven approach," Mr Tso said.

Under the application regime, the administration decides which sites will be included in the list of land for sale in a fiscal year. An applicant who wants to buy a site must guarantee the government a minimum price. If the offered price meets the government's reserve price, which is the administration's valuation, the site will be put up for public auction.

"Under the current system, land supply is determined by market demand," said Mr Tso, adding that the government also granted land through MTR Corp and Kowloon-Canton Railway Corp. The two rail firms will release land for the development of more than 15,000 flats at stations along rail lines this year.

UBS property analyst Franklin Lam Fan-keung said: "I see no problem in the current land granting system and land premium discussion process."

Mr Lam criticised political parties for politicising the issue, warning that the knock-on effect would slow the execution process and delay the city's development.

Academics say there is no problem with the land sale system but there is room for improvement for some ad hoc projects. Eddie Hui, associate professor at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University's department of building and real estate, said: "Cyberport was probably a mistake. The project was not sold through public tender. But the government has made an improvement with the West Kowloon project because at least it will be granted through public tender."

Professor Chau Kwong-wing, of the University of Hong Kong's department of real estate and construction, said the problem with the West Kowloon project was that the government had from the outset failed to clearly disclose the investment cost of all items, such as land and cultural facilities. This gave the public a bad impression.

Mr Hui said the government had not adopted a land sale policy of total non-intervention because it decided which sites would be included in the application list.

"But it is OK if the government enhances transparency and consults the public before making decisions, if it wants to restore public confidence," he said.

"More public involvement may lead Hong Kong to miss chances of development in the wake of the economic turnaround."

How to strike a balance between efficiency and a consensus was up to citizens to decide, he said.
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Old December 16th, 2005, 12:43 PM   #237
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"However, mainland officials have further complicated discussions by again raising the possibility of using magnetic levitation (maglev) technology for the regional express line."

Can the Chinese government stop building fancy stuff for impractical uses??
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Old December 18th, 2005, 07:46 PM   #238
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Public would prefer a park on West Kowloon site, says group
Chloe Lai
14 March 2005
South China Morning Post

The West Kowloon waterfront site designated to be a cultural hub should be turned into an open green park, a citizens' group said.

The park would have space for jogging, cycling, walking trails, an amphitheatre, artificial lake, waterfalls and fountains.

A group called Hong Kong Alternatives has come up with the idea. The group was formed by six people after they visited the West Kowloon site and the exhibition that displays the three shortlisted proposals in January.

Engineer Ken Wan Kee-neng said: "We are convinced that a sizeable silent majority of Hong Kong people would agree to turn the site into an open green park.

"The site certainly ranks among one of the most important and invaluable real estates for the past 150 years. For this simple reason the government must recognise and agree that it is not for sale."

The government wants to turn the 40-hectare waterfront site in West Kowloon into a cultural hub.

The group says a park would occupy 80 per cent of the site, with the rest, along Austin Road and Canton Road, devoted to cultural and arts venues.

It wants to relocate the Museum of Science and Museum of History from Tsim Sha Tsui East to West Kowloon.

The vacant sites could then be developed for commercial purposes.

"Hong Kong already has a world-famous landmark, the natural harbour and the skyline. We don't need a canopy," Mr Wan said.

He hopes the proposal can stimulate public discussion.

"Hong Kong needs parks. A park gets more attractive as it gets old; it doesn't cost much," he said.
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Old December 18th, 2005, 07:49 PM   #239
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West Kowloon climbdown signal amid legislative fire
Sylvia Hui
24 March 2005
Hong Kong Standard

The West Kowloon project could yet be developed by more than one developerwhile the government's criteria for selecting the winning company, widely regarded as dubious, are to be tightened, a senior planning official said Wednesday.

Permanent Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands Rita Lau hinted at government compromises over the controversialcultural project, saying the number of developers for the 40-hectare site is as yet unknown and that the standards for assessing the developers will be negotiated later.

"We don't know yet whether we are choosing one, two or three out of the three [shortlisted] developers," she said Wednesday at a Legislative Council special committee meeting on the project,where lawmakers discussed the feasibility of the public-private partnershipproposed for West Kowloon.

Three bidders were shortlisted by the government in November, but the fate of the project will not be determined until the ongoing public consultation, which was last week extended to June, comes to an end.

"You shouldn't have the misconceptionthat the government stubbornly sticks to its own way of doing things," Lau said.

She was responding to lawmakers Audrey Eu and Emily Lau's questions on whether the government admits there is room to compromise.

The government has been widely criticized for insisting on a single-developer approach for the HK$40 billion project.

At this stage, the government must "play by the rules of the game [set out in the invitation for proposals]," Lau said. In the next phase, for which the time frame has yet to be specified, the criteria for assessing the bidders' proposals will be further refined.

Some legislators raised doubts and criticisms about the feasibility of a public-private partnership _ including its transparency, monitoring mechanismand risks _ despite Lau's repeatedpromises that the project is cost-effective and could be clearly monitored.

One of the most important factors fuelling public distrust is the refusal by the government to disclose any financial details relating to the project.

Responding to Kwok Ka-ki's demands that the government prove that the private-public partnership proposal is valid by revealing how much the projectwill cost to build and how much profit it will make, Lau declined, saying it is difficult and that the government had no experience in making such land value projections.

But Paul Ho of the Institute of Surveyors, also present at the meeting, said this excuse is "unacceptable."

Lawmakers also proposed the government abandon the single-developer approach and instead follow the example of the Abandoibarra projectin Bilbao, Spain, in which a cultural district very similar to the scale of West Kowloon was successfully developed using separate bids and non-profit management.
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Old December 19th, 2005, 04:43 PM   #240
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Hong Kong arts centre a battleground for world's top architects

HONG KONG, March 24 (AFP) - As Hong Kong seeks a spectacular new landmark to add to its famous skyline, the city has become a design battleground where the world's greatest architects are striving to make their mark with a visionary arts and performance centre.

American Frank Gehry and Argentinean Cesar Pelli were both in the southern Chinese enclave last week to marshal their forces in a bidding war for a project already outline-designed by Britain's Lord Norman Foster.

The three heavyweights, who between them have created some of the world's most striking modern structures, are keen not only for the riches the 40-hectare West Kowloon Cultural District will offer the winner, they want a piece of the prestige it is expected to accrue.

"This is an incredible opportunity that goes way beyond what any other city has done," Pelli, 78, told AFP in an exclusive interview. "Every city has a golden age -- Hong Kong's is about to happen."

The hub project will be huge, with some estimates putting its cost at some 40 billion US dollars.

Carved out of a spit of reclaimed land across Hong Kong's famous harbour from the towering downtown, the Foster-created outline envisages theatres, a stadium, exhibition and museum space as well as parkland and a giant open-air piazza.

Most ambitious of all they are to be housed beneath a kilometre-long 40-hectare undulating roof that will not only shield the district from the city's unremitting tropical climate but also provide an iconic landmark to project Hong Kong's image all over the world.

The winning bidder will be allowed to finance the project by selling associated commercial and residential plots in return for a guarantee it run the public cultural facilities, at a loss if necessary, for 30 years.

The rush to be part of Hong Kong's cultural future is so heated that it even led to a spat between the Guggenheim and Pompidou, giants of the art museum world, who are being touted as possible tenants.

Among other big-name artistic institutions keen to get a foothold in the hub are the British National Theatre and France's Musee D'Orsay.

But for all the developers talk of a golden age, the scheme has locally become a political hot potato. Many political parties oppose the government's insistence it be built by a single developer and arts groups have objected to big property companies controlling the city's cultural infrastructure.

A consultation exercise has been extended twice to accommodate the huge public interest in the project and bidding developers are privately resigned to the government missing the summer deadline when it is supposed to announce the winning design.

But Pelli, whose soaring creations include Kuala Lumpur's Petronas Towers -- once the world's tallest buildings -- and East London's Canary Wharf, said the project had fired the imagination of the world's greatest designers.

"Hong Kong has this incredible energy," said the Argentinean, commissioned to design a four-theater performance complex for the hub.

"I just love to walk the streets more so than in any other part of the world."

Gehry, 76, has been equally effusive about the former British colony.

"Hong Kong is a wonderful and vibrant and exciting place," he told the South China Morning Post. "I have never seen anywhere like it. Perhaps Manhattan, but it is not quite the same."

The American is probably most famous for designing the angular homes for the Guggenheim Museums in New York and Bilbao, Spain.

His design for a museum complex in Hong Kong recalls the boxy shape of the Bilbao structure but is unlikely to get past the planning stage; it was commissioned by the Swire Group, a British-based company that failed to make the tender shortlist for refusing to confine its proposal to the plot of earmarked land.

Swire hired Gehry to lend weight to its campaign to have the tender reopened.

Gehry has been less than enthusiastic about the canopy plan. Proposed by Foster, for whom it won design awards, Gehry said it was an idea the British master has rehashed from a 1960s idea of legendary designer Buckminster Fuller.

"Fuller had an idea to build a canopy that stretched over one mile, but subsequent versions of the canopy became less and less powerful," he was quoted as telling the Post.

Foster is highly respected in Hong Kong where his relatively squat HSBC headquarters is one of the most outstanding buildings in a city defined by its gravity-defying skyscrapers and the airport he built has won the city countless design awards.

Many architects here say his canopy is unworkable, however. As such its very inclusion in the tender proposal has become a point of heated debate.

Gehry's backers Swire have argued against building one and another bidder who made the shortlist has come up with an alternative network of mini canopies.

Pelli is fully behind it and says it will make Hong Kong's culture hub the world's leading venue.

"I wouldn't say it is necessary but it will give a very strong image -- it will make this grouping of facilities far more unique and make it much more of a destination.

"It will create a memory of Hong Kong that you can carry with you -- you have those memories even if you have never been there," he said.

Canopy or not, a cultural hub will be built and the bidding companies are spending fortunes to make sure they win the tender.

Swire said it had spent 30 million Hong Kong dollars -- about 3.75 million US dollars -- on its design before it even thought of flying in Gehry.

A bidding consortium led by rival Henderson Land, which commissioned Pelli, will not reveal how much it has sunk into its proposal but a senior project manager hinted it had paid far more than its British rival.

Even less is known of the costing of a bid by a consortium consisting of Hong Kong's two biggest developers Cheung Kong and Sun Hung Kai.

They will reveal no figures but as an indication the consortium has hired the Pompidou Centre and the Guggenheim as partners and is believed to have footed a two million US dollar bill for flying in from Paris Picasso's giant "Parade" masterpiece for a month-long display here last year.

It also recently caused uproar when it flew a string of reporters to Paris, London and New York to observe other museums at work.
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