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Old October 23rd, 2005, 09:47 AM   #161
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Fostering creativity a long-term effort
18 November 2004
South China Morning Post

Many of Hong Kong's true arts and design innovators fly under the radar and work without government support. This is to be expected, given the city's history as a trading port, manufacturing centre and financial hub.

But as the government and the public begin to warm up to the idea that creative industries, fine arts and cultural heritage could be the drivers of future economic growth, there is a big push to change things. There is the prime example of the West Kowloon Cultural District, where the government is inviting tenders for at least four museums and a number of other civic spaces. Now there is the creativity index, announced yesterday.

It is encouraging to see thought and effort being put into a crucial but neglected aspect of Hong Kong's development. However, those expecting instant results - or any kind of overnight cultural renaissance - will be disappointed. Great museums take decades to build and develop; fostering a creative class, much less the economically valuable industries it will attract, is also a long-term project.

Fears that the creative arts are simply the flavour of the month, and that Hong Kong will soon find another trend to chase, are valid. What needs to happen to promote a deeper change is not simple. It is not just a matter of building the galleries or coming up with formulas for quantifying the contribution artists make.

Private citizens and corporations should be encouraged to support the arts, something other places do quite effectively through tax breaks.

Bureaucrats are in charge of both arts underwriting and venues in Hong Kong. Shaking up this moribund system should include giving artists and arts groups more say in the sector's development.

The education system needs to turn away from rote learning and towards teaching analytical and creative thinking skills. Reforms being talked about now would support this direction.

Some thought might be given to whether immigration policies are helping or hindering the effort to build a knowledge-based society. The most creative cities are characterised by a high level of cultural diversity and immigration.

Hong Kong is not the only city seeking to reinvent itself in this way, and a few lessons can be learned from others that have travelled the same route. London, for instance, has managed to revive certain moribund warehouse districts by encouraging artists, designers and filmmakers to move in. New agencies have been set up to help cut red tape for artists, subsidise rents and take equity stakes in promising young companies. From Melbourne to Toronto, similar efforts have paid off.

The West Kowloon project - and the controversy surrounding it - is just beginning. But if the proposal fosters a constructive debate about how to raise Hong Kong's cultural profile, this is not a bad thing. Short-term thinking, however, should be the first thing to go.
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Old October 23rd, 2005, 07:53 PM   #162
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West Kowloon lawsuit threat
Cannix Yau
18 November 2004
Hong Kong Standard

The Democratic Party is threatening to sue the government if it refuses to re-zone the HK$24 billion West Kowloon cultural site, declaring that a deal has been done "behind closed doors".

Party chairman Yeung Sum sounded the warning on Wednesday at Legco as he moved a motion urging the government to seriously consider the expectations of lawmakers for the 2005 Policy Address. The motion was passed unanimously. .

The party chief said they had to stop the government, claiming it was "colluding with property developers" and selling land cheap in the best interests of the developers.

Yeung pointed out that the project site falls under the banner of "Other Specified Uses", which allows the developer to make amendments without seeking the approval of the Town Planning Board once its outline plan is approved by the board.

The party is demanding the government redefines the entire 40-hectare site as a Comprehensive Development Area so that any future amendment to the development plan would have to be formally approved by the Town Planning Board.

Yeung announced his party has decided to set up an advisory group to follow up the matter "until the end".

"If our call is rejected, we will seek a judicial review to overturn the government's decision. This is a deal behind closed doors without transparency. We will raise funds to take legal action if necessary," he declared.

Yeung was reacting to comments made last week when Chief Secretary for Administration Donald Tsang announced the three finalists in the race to win the sole development rights for the 40 hectares of land which is earmarked to be a "world-class" cultural district.

The shortlisted bidders are Henderson Land Development, a joint bid by Cheung Kong (Holdings) and Sun Hung Kai Properties called Dynamic Star, and Sunny Development, a consortium led by Sino Land.
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Old October 23rd, 2005, 07:53 PM   #163
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Democrats demand reappraisal of hub plan
Ambrose Leung and Carrie Chan
18 November 2004
South China Morning Post

The Democratic Party yesterday urged the government to overhaul the plan allowing developers to build a cultural hub and residential buildings in West Kowloon.

The party called for a fresh start to the project after a thorough public consultation.

But a government official said that during earlier consultation sessions, no opposition had been voiced to the mammoth project.

However, critics have raised grave doubts over the current plan, saying it lacks public input. The government has shortlisted three leading conglomerates to submit development plans.

Albert Ho Chun-yan, vice-chairman of the Democratic Party, said a letter had been sent to Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands Michael Suen Ming-yeung asking for the project to be halted.

Mr Ho said it should be restarted after statutory public consultation to give people a greater say in how the area was developed.

"The present plan lacks public participation and transparency, and the government must start again from the beginning."

He said the project had loopholes which would enable developers to build high-density residential buildings which would damage the image of the proposed cultural hub.

Mr Ho said a group of experts formed by the Democrats would continue to monitor the situation.

Vincent Fung Hao-yin, principal assistant secretary at the Home Affairs Bureau, said the government had carried out a public consultation on the West Kowloon cultural district in 2002 but attendance was poor.

"We held about six consultative sessions at the Central Library. Only a maximum of 10 people showed up. I was an assistant to [Secretary for Home Affairs] Patrick Ho Chi-ping at that time. Dr Ho was having a one-on-one conversation with those attending."

Mr Fung said he had seen no criticism of the project.
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Old October 23rd, 2005, 07:55 PM   #164
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Media urged to reject free world trip
Gary Cheung
19 November 2004
South China Morning Post

A journalists' group yesterday urged media organisations not to join a free trip to museums around the world offered by a consortium shortlisted for the West Kowloon cultural project.

Mak Yin-ting, honorary secretary of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, said it was inappropriate for journalists to accept the trip because the project had sparked controversy in the community.

"The media should avoid doing anything to arouse suspicion," she said.

Dynamic Star International, a Cheung Kong (Holdings) and Sun Hung Kai Properties joint venture, has invited Hong Kong journalists to join the 10-day trip. It will take in museums in France, Spain, Russia, the US and Canada.

The consortium is one of the three shortlisted bidders for the controversial arts project.

Democratic Party vice-chairman Albert Ho Chun-yan said the public might get the impression the consortium was providing free trips to reporters in exchange for favourable reports on its bid.

But the Federation of Journalists said the independence of reporting would not be affected by the trip. The Democratic Party was misleading the public by describing the study trip as free travel.
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Old October 23rd, 2005, 08:59 PM   #165
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Looks amazing, hope they build it.
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Old October 24th, 2005, 01:33 PM   #166
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Buildings need to relate to people, says architect
Carrie Chan
22 November 2004
South China Morning Post

When Canadian-born architect Frank Gehry arrived in Hong Kong, he was not impressed with the architecture.

"The buildings that don't look so good to me are those that do not relate to its people and do not have humanity," he told the closing session of the Business of Design Week at the Convention and Exhibition Centre yesterday.

The 1989 Pritzker Architecture Prize laureate is best known for creating Bilbao's Guggenheim Museum, a sculpture-like building of curvaceous and twisting metal-clad forms. Completed in 1997, it attracted world attention to the formerly quiet industrial town.

"The Guggenheim building paid for itself in just eight months. The city is very committed to cleaning itself up and turning itself around," Mr Gehry said.

Asked for the secret to good architecture, he spoke of boldness and experimentation. "There has to be willingness to take a risk and go into the unknown," he said.

Mr Gehry's participation in the show was suggested by Swire Properties, which hired him to design a museum complex for its West Kowloon cultural district project bid.
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Old October 24th, 2005, 01:35 PM   #167
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Debate on cultural district 'too politicised'
A Cheung Kong executive says critics are not listening to its West Kowloon plans
Chloe Lai
24 November 2004
South China Morning Post

Debate over the West Kowloon cultural district has become too politicised, a Cheung Kong executive said yesterday.

"The bidding is a tough job. I'd rather go to a land auction, which takes just half a day and I don't have to do all the talking and explanation," said Cheung Kong (Holdings) executive director Grace Woo Chia-ching.

Li Ka-shing's flagship firm is among those vying to develop the massive project.

Ms Woo's remarks came as the government last night announced details of public consultation events to be held next month. There will be main exhibitions at the Hong Kong Science Museum and City Hall, regional exhibitions and at least eight discussion forums.

The bidders must provide layout plans, conceptual designs for arts and cultural facilities, and disclose how the facilities will be managed. The companies also must provide a model of the whole project and three other models of various aspects of the site; a video in English, Cantonese and Putonghua; informational pamphlets; and data including plot ratio, gross floor areas and usage.

The process is aimed at allaying some of the concerns highlighted by Ms Woo. She urged the project's critics to closely examine the proposal submitted by Cheung Kong and Sun Hung Kai Properties in a joint venture under the name Dynamic Star International.

"The whole issue is too political," she said. "When people criticise the project and demand that others listen, they should also listen to us. The arts [are] about communication and communication is a two-way process."

She insisted that democratic principles would prevail in forming the company boards that Dynamic Star has pledged to create to run the cultural aspects of the project separately from the property side.

"There will be democratic elections," she said. "How the elections can be conducted, whether the developer and the government should have representatives on the board, are all up to the public to decide."

Other consortiums on the short list are World City Cultural Park - a subsidiary of Henderson Land - and Sunny Development, formed by Sino Land, Wharf (Holdings) and Chinese Estates Holdings.

The winning group will develop the 40-hectare waterfront site and manage it for 30 years.

Ms Woo said the focus should be on what the developers can deliver to Hong Kong.

"We are not competing about [who can provide] the lowest plot ratio. The competition is about who can bring a world-class cultural hub to Hong Kong," she said.

"Developers are more flexible than the government and more resourceful than non-profit organisations."
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Old October 24th, 2005, 01:38 PM   #168
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No backtracking on plan for culture hub, pledges Tsang
Suspensions to West Kowloon project 'would affect investment atmosphere'
Chloe Lai and Winnie Yeung
25 November 2004
South China Morning Post

The government would not suspend the West Kowloon cultural project or set a standard for the site's development density, the chief secretary said yesterday.

Donald Tsang Yam-kuen told the legislature that suspending the project would be an unjust decision and would affect the city's investment atmosphere.

Confronting some hostile lawmakers who repeatedly questioned the project, Mr Tsang said the scheme was widely supported by the Legislative Council, members of the arts and cultural community and the public.

Democratic Party legislator James To Kun-sun asked if the administration would research public expectations on the project, set a standard plot ratio for the 40-hectare site and hand down the management of facilities there to a statutory body.

But Mr Tsang said: "If we start this project all over again, it will give a negative impact to the city's investment environment. Investors will lose confidence and wonder why the government and Legco change their standpoint all the time.

"I believe Legco would not be that heartless and overrule this project. Also, the government would not be unjust and halt the project."

Mr Tsang ruled out setting a standard on the plot ratio, saying designers needed flexibility.

Plot ratio compares floor area to site area. The government has only set a minimum for West Kowloon, at 1.81 to 1. All three shortlisted proposals have much higher ratios, meaning they will have a higher density than the benchmark.

Under the current timetable, public consultation on the projects will conclude by the end of March after a series of exhibitions and forums starting next month. The government will then select the winning bidder before submitting the final proposal to Legco and the Town Planning Board for consent.

Construction will start in April 2007. The core arts and cultural facilities are scheduled to be completed in phases between 2011 and 2013.

A survey by the University of Hong Kong's Public Opinion Programme found that 83 per cent of 1,009 respondents wanted the government to have a large-scale public consultation before selecting the winning bid.

The survey, commissioned by Sunny Development - a Sino Land, Wharf Estates and Chinese Estates Holdings consortium - found 70 per cent of the public did not take part in cultural activities.

More than half of the interviewees expect the project to raise Hong Kong's cultural and arts standards.
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Old October 24th, 2005, 01:41 PM   #169
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Local arts and culture wanting, poll shows
Sylvia Hui
25 November 2004
Hong Kong Standard

About one-third of the population is satisfied with the current level of cultural development and education in Hong Kong.

However, in a survey conducted by the Hong Kong University's Public Affairs Programme of 1,009 people in late September, slightly more than 30 per cent felt that our cultural development was below world standards.

The survey on the West Kowloon Cultural District development was commissioned by Sunny Development, one of three finalists competing for the controversial HK$40 billion cultural project.

The survey found that the majority was more satisfied with the cultural facilities than with overall cultural development. Some 58 per cent found the cultural facilities satisfactory.

The survey also found that while 87 per cent of those interviewed believed it was important to promote cultural and arts education in Hong Kong, 70 per cent of them had not taken part in any cultural activity in the six months prior to being interviewed.

When asked to compare Hong Kong with Asia and the rest of the world, most of the respondents graded the SAR as average or below standard, with 36 per cent saying the available facilities were below world standards and 28 per cent saying the SAR was below the rest of Asia.

Within Asia, Tokyo was rated as the city with the best cultural and arts development, with Hong Kong and Singapore in a tie for second place.

More than half of the respondents believed the West Kowloon cultural project would raise awareness in Hong Kong's culture and arts and promote arts education.

An overwhelming 83 per cent hoped the government would hold a large-scale public consultation before handing over the mega project to the successful bidder. The public consultation period, which has been extended from 6 weeks to 15 weeks due to widespread controversy, will start on December 16.

Besides Sunny Development, which is a consortium comprising Sino Land, Wharf Holdings and Chinese Estates Holdings, the others bidding for the contract are Dynamic Star International, a joint venture between Cheung Kong Holdings and Sun Hung Kai Properties, and Henderson Land.
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Old October 24th, 2005, 02:39 PM   #170
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Business culture; Can cash-motivated developers really hope to encapsulate the cultural essence of Hong Kong, or are their bottom lines always about money?
26 November 2004
South China Morning Post

Described as perhaps the most fascinating building plan in history, the West Kowloon cultural district project has never failed to inspire the creativity of critics and doubters.

One day after the government short-listed three bidders early this month, a newspaper report headlined "fake culture, real property" said a lot. Some observers likened it to a double-sized Taikoo Shing, a middle-class residential cluster in Eastern District. Others ridiculed it as a "replica of Cyberport", better known for its luxurious apartments in Southern District than info-tech development.

An architect branded the partnership between property developers and arts groups as a "fake marriage", warning of a divorce sooner or later. At an RTHK City Forum, a school student feared the emergence of "instant culture".

In a newsletter, Christine Loh Kung-wai, head of the Civic Exchange, an independent think-tank, said the development of the West Kowloon project had reminded her of government mistakes made on the Cyberport project and the legislative plan over Article 23. "The signs show this could be another 'perfect storm' that could hit the Hong Kong government," she wrote.

Doubts and suspicion - bordering on conspiracy theory - prevalent in arts and culture circles and in society generally have put a long shadow on the otherwise ambitious, innovative project to build a cultural complex on the huge reclaimed area.

Like the Sydney Opera House on the coastline of that city, officials said Hong Kong deserved an icon adjacent to Victoria Harbour. More important, the government hopes the project will bring economic benefits, boost cultural tourism, turn the city into a cultural hub and, above all, enhance its status as a world city.

Dating back to 1996, the concept of developing a world-class cultural district was finally put on the agenda when Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa envisioned a goal of turning Hong Kong into Asia's arts and cultural capital, in his policy address in 1998. The West Kowloon cultural project was among the major initiatives.

In the wake of the Asian financial meltdown, Mr Tung's idea sought to "turn adversity into opportunity". After years of internal discussion and a global design contest, the government invited project proposals last year. (The conceptual design by world-renowned architect Norman Foster featuring a giant roof structure won overwhelmingly.) Five submissions were received in an extended invitation for proposals. On November 10, the government said it would be asking public views on three short-listed proposals in a six-week consultation-cum-exhibition.

The three proposals on the short-list are Dynamic Star International, a joint venture by Cheung Kong (Holdings) and Sun Hung Kai Properties; Sunny Development, a consortium of Sino Land, Wharf (Holdings) and Chinese Estates Holdings; and World City Culture Park, a subsidiary of Henderson Land Development.

Last week, the government announced the consultation period would be extended to 15 weeks - even before it was due to begin next month - in the face of a public outcry.

A former senior official said: "The government thinks it can develop Hong Kong into an arts and cultural hub with West Kowloon [project]. And you would have an info-tech centre with Cyberport, and science and technology with Science Park. The whole approach is problematic. There are no comprehensive policies in arts and culture behind the whole project."

Under the government plan, a single developer will be given the right to develop arts and cultural facilities on the 40-hectare site, with an obligation to run it for 30 years.

Critics said the arrangement was tailor-made for super-sized consortiums, and that the bidders were more interested in property business than arts and culture. Danny Yung, an influential figure in Hong Kong arts circles, said: "I'm not opposed to the idea of the construction of an icon, but it has to be related to arts and cultural development, a vision of society. Without a cultural blueprint, the West Kowloon cultural district will not have its own life."

Mr Yung, who is programme director of the Hong Kong Institute of Contemporary Culture and founder of the performance art group Zuni Icosahedron, has lamented the problem of "stereotype" between the business and arts sectors.

"West Kowloon is a good initiative to have trans-sector dialogue among the government, business and non-profit-taking organisations{hellip} The developers have moved to respond to concerns of society, albeit slowly and superficially.

"But we are fooling ourselves if we say people have a greater sense of culture with the enthusiastic response to the showing of Picasso's Parade [at the International Finance Tower last month]. The big question is whether their commitment to culture is sustainable," he said.

Nevertheless, there has been no shortage of initiatives from the three consortia to impress upon the community that their ethos is not just about money. The city saw a flurry of cultural activities, visits by big names in arts, culture, architecture and museums in the past few weeks. More will come.

One of the three bidders plans to take a group of journalists on a reporting tour of major arts and culture facilities in Europe later this month.

A key member of a consortium said: "Yes, our knowledge and expertise in arts and culture is limited. But we know how to get the right people and run it in a sustainable way. I hope the media do not merely focus on the property aspect and the hardware. The ideas behind are far more important.

"We fully understand we need to talk to the people and convince society we have ideas and a vision for Hong Kong's arts and culture."

A senior official, who preferred anonymity, said: "There are no intrinsic conflicts between arts and business. Indeed, it's a great opportunity for businesses and people to talk to each other.

"People tend to look at the whole project in a very negative way. We do not have any world-class museums. This is a once in a life time opportunity. There won't be any if we miss this opportunity in engaging corporations with cultural development," he said.

Another senior official, who was involved with the project, admitted the government had failed to solicit support from the public, particularly the stake-holders, over the basics of the project. "We all know culture is a money-losing business. Government has no money, no knowledge and competence to do it. That's why we want to bring the private sector in.

"Now that we have adopted the idea of a canopy by Norman Foster, it's not possible to carve up the project into several items{hellip} All these issues have been debated over and over in the past year.

"Frankly, starting all over again is not possible. The project has dragged on for too long," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

He said he wouldn't rule out the possibility that the project would fail, in view of the strong opposition. "How we assess the public opinion on the three proposals will be difficult. Are we going to make a decision based on a so-called 'cultural referendum'?

"There's a lot of mistrust in society. People don't believe what the government or the property developers say. We need someone with high credibility and public trust to come out to endorse the project. Where can we get them?"

Dr Lui Tai-lok, a sociology scholar at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said the West Kowloon cultural project was yet another predicament in which the Tung administration had found itself over the past seven years.

"Society has no strong consensus over the fundamental model of a business-led approach in developing culture. People question why all the haste when the basic questions remained unanswered. The government may think it's no longer an issue. There's a big gap of expectation between government and people. The 'father knows best' mentality prevails in the government. There's also a strong feeling among officials that they'd better not have their legs dragged by arguments over the nitty-gritty of a project. Otherwise, they believe they would never be able to get things done."

Dr Lui said the lack of public trust and confidence in the government has given rise to fears the project would become another lucrative deal to the benefit of developers. "When people from the arts sector come out and speak against it, people are confused and wonder what this is all about. The whole project suffers from a lack of third-party endorsement.

"Whoever wins the project, there will be rumours of this and that. The third administration [after 2007] will have to tackle the political fallout."

He said the government should use the upcoming consultation period to facilitate a more focused public discussion on major issues concerning the plan. These include the rationale behind the self-financing arrangement, the idea of putting a range of cultural facilities in one place, and necessary constraints on the project developer.

Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung of the City University's public administration studies said the cultural sector harboured grave doubts about the sincerity of government in promoting culture. Nor did they have confidence in the commitment of businesses to manage cultural facilities in the long term.

He said it would be unrealistic to rule out the participation of the business sector in the project, given the enormous financial resources required. But the government, he said, should consider a new model of partnership with business to separate the cultural facilities from the property development. "It's anybody's guess as to how the saga unfolds, and whether opposition against it will gain momentum. Every step the government takes has reinforced public fears that it will end up a mega-sized property project in the name of culture.

"The government talked up the whole project since the beginning, but was cash-strapped to finance it. They then came up with the idea of giving incentives to consortia to develop arts and culture. We may have world-class museums, performance halls and exhibits from abroad. But key questions remain unanswered. What are the arts and culture we want to develop for a 'cultural Hong Kong'?"
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Old October 24th, 2005, 02:41 PM   #171
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Swire chief fires parting shot over West Kowloon
Dennis Eng
26 November 2004
Hong Kong Standard

James Hughes-Hallett, outgoing chairman of Swire Pacific, has taken a parting shot at government plans for the West Kowloon cultural hub, saying more debate is needed - "and fast".

He said its museums would be better sprinkled around town than concentrated on the 40-hectare site.

"West Kowloon needs better cultural infrastructure," Hughes-Hallett said on Thursday.

"This is a really important crossroads and I believe more debate is needed and fast.

"I think there is a better way to do it," said the executive, who will return to Swire's London headquarters in December for one year before retiring.

"The community needs more time to think about" where to put cultural centres, he added.

He said Swire knew all along that its non-conforming bid for the project _ which ignored several stipulations, including the need for a massive canopy _ was bound to be eliminated in the first round of the screening process. But it submitted the proposal anyway in an effort to spark a debate on how best to use the West Kowloon site.

"We submitted an alternative proposal that met the cultural needs of Hong Kong but not the definition" of a cultural hub as specified by the government, Hughes-Hallett said.

The Swire chief said readily accessible areas like the Hong Kong Cultural Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui and the vacant Tamar lot would make better sites for museums.

The company's property arm owns the Pacific Place shopping and office complex in Admiralty adjacent to the Tamar site.

"People don't really make plans to visit a museum. If they realise they have to go all the way to West Kowloon, they may decide to go to a restaurant instead," he said.

The government has shortlisted three bids for the HK$40 billion cultural and residential project.

The bidders are Henderson Land Development; Dynamic Star, bringing together Cheung Kong (Holdings) and Sun Hung Kai Properties; and Sunny Development, a consortium of Sino Land, Wharf (Holdings) and Chinese Estates.

Hughes-Hallett declined to comment on the three proposals.

Public consultations on the West Kowloon project are slated to start in mid-December.

Models and information on the three proposals will be on display at the Science Museum for a period of six weeks.
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Old October 25th, 2005, 04:26 PM   #172
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Developer says it may rethink West Kowloon plan
Carrie Chan
26 November 2004
Hong Kong Standard

A consortium bidding for the West Kowloon Cultural District said it might reconsider its suggested plot ratio after public consultation.

Sunny Development, a consortium of Sino Land, Wharf Estates and Chinese Estates Holdings, has been criticised for suggesting a plot ratio of 4.3, the highest of the three finalists competing for 30 years of sole development rights for the 40-hectare cultural project, earmarked to become "Asia's cultural hub".

The plot ratio defines the total floor space of erected buildings compared with the footprint the buildings occupy. The higher the ratio, the taller the building.

Sunny Development's proposal bid also includes 5,000 luxury residential flats.

Chief Secretary of Administration Donald Tsang warned bidders on Wednesday that the government will require them to provide sufficient grounds for deviating too far from the government's suggested plot ratio.

Sunny Development project director Yu Wai-wai said the consortium's proposal was primarily culturally driven and that the property element was put in afterwards to sustain the project.

Yu called for the public to see the proposal "from a holistic point of view".

He said it is an integrated project and all elements should be re-examined including sustainability and the needs of the cultural facilities.

He rejected criticism that the proposal had boosted its cultural facility components on purpose to justify the large property portion, leading to such a high plot ratio. "We are open to the views of ordinary citizens and cultural groups, and any subsequent changes will be made pending discussions with the government," Yu said.

According to the consortium's proposal unveiled on Tuesday, the proportion of arts facilities to non-arts facilities will be 1:2.9 compared to the government's requirement of 1:2.1.

Consortium project manager Sunny Yeung said the public/private partnership scheme to build a cultural hub for Hong Kong represented a totally new experience for local developers.

He and Yu said that given that it was a culturally driven but property-funded project, the developers had become laymen forced to deal with a very sharp learning curve during the bidding exercise.

Some people in the cultural sector and some legislators have voiced suspicions that the plans of contesting developers, which propose plot ratios higher than the government's original plan, suggest that developers care more about building flats for sale than creating a cultural area for the public.
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Old October 25th, 2005, 04:27 PM   #173
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Mega project hits fresh snags
Cannix Yau
27 November 2004
Hong Kong Standard

More headaches are in store for Chief Secretary for Administration Donald Tsang as he pushes ahead with the controversial HK$40 billion West Kowloon cultural project after pro-Beijing lawmaker Chan Yuen-han joined in the crusade against the complex.

"The current development plan is doomed. The government must shelve it and do a comprehensive rethink.

"It can't just press ahead with this project with utter disregard for public opinion. It will be foolhardy for any government to act against its people," she warned in an interview with The Standard.

Chan _ a core member of the Federation of Trade Unions (FTU) _ plans to set up a coalition with other arts and cultural groups, along with two other FTU lawmakers _ Wong Kwok-hing and Kwong Chi-kin _ to force the government to shelve the project.

Chan, who has distanced herself from her Democratic Alliance for Betterment of Hong Kong (DAB), said she will try to solicit support from the DAB and other pro-Beijing groups in thwarting the plan.

The unionist lawmaker launched a scathing attack on Tsang, saying he had never sincerely consulted the arts and cultural groups before presenting the plan to a single property developer. Tsang, she said, should have allowed other developers or cultural organisations to participate.

"He [Tsang] merely put up a consultation show. He never sincerely listened to the views of artistes and cultural critics. If he had been really sincere, he would have had in depth discussions with those groups.

"The consultation he had carried out with the arts and cultural groups was, in fact, a fake exercise," she said.

Public consultation on the project is due to begin in mid-December and last until the end of March.

But Chan argued that genuine consultation should take at least six months and not 15 weeks.

She warned that the development would turn into just another property project without cultivating a thriving arts culture for Hong Kong.

"I'm really worried this project will benefit only the developers and not the public," she said.

Chan urged the government to scrap the proposal until a comprehensive consultation programme for the city's cultural development is introduced.

As the pro-democracy camp has been actively pursuing plans for a "rezoning" of the West Kowloon site, although the plan does not need the endorsement of the Legislative Council, Tsang is likely to encounter a crisis in the face of mounting opposition even from pro-Beijing legislators.

The mega project has been embroiled in bitter controversy since Tsang announced earlier this month that there will only be three parties in the race to win the sole right to develop the 40-hectare plot of land which is earmarked to be a "world-class" cultural district.

However, Tsang failed to explain the criteria for the shortlisting of the candidates _ Henderson Land Development; a joint bid by Cheung Kong (Holdings) and Sun Hung Kai Properties called Dynamic Star International; and Sunny Development, a consortium led by Sino Land, Wharf Holdings and Chinese Estates Holdings.

A bid by the Swire Group was rejected because its design did not include a canopy.
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Old October 25th, 2005, 04:29 PM   #174
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Why rush West Kowloon project?
Carrie Chan
29 November 2004
Hong Kong Standard

Why is the government in such a rush to push through the West Kowloon Development project?

Chief Secretary Donald Tsang, who is in charge of the project, has doggedly pushed ahead.

And now he will face strong opposition if legislators carry out a threat to form a coalition with arts and culture groups to force the government to scrap the project.

According to pro-Beijing legislator Chan Yuen-han, Tsang did not thoroughly consult arts and culture groups before presenting the plan to a single property developer.

The Chief Secretary should have allowed other developers or cultural organisations to participate.

Tsang rejects suggestions he is favouring any particular developer, or that he has a personal agenda. He refuses to heed calls to re-think his decision and also said last week that any lawmaker opposing the project was "heartless".

He claimed that the project has received widespread support from the arts and cultural sector as well as the general public.

The project would be one of the largest real estate developments in the world, and would help define Hong Kong for decades to come.

The 40-hectare site is one of the most spectacular undeveloped city centre sites in the world. It's not just another building site. And it is not being treated like one.

That's exactly the problem, say critics. The promise of building a world-class arts hub in West Kowloon that's paid for by development of adjacent land has seduced senior officials into disregarding normal procedures that safeguard statutory surveillance and public scrutiny.

Museum experts don't like the idea of turning over the management of cultural institutions to developers. Give the money to a foundation up front, they say.

Other developers don't like the fact that the winner stands to make massive profits and will have a dominant position in determining property prices for at least the next decade.

Artificial barriers have barred smaller developers from competing. Those with different ideas _ like an innovative proposal from the Swire group _ saw their bids thrown out on the grounds that they didn't meet the selection criteria which called for a huge canopy covering 55 per cent of the site.

Architect Norman Foster won the conceptual design for the site in February 2002 for a design that included a canopy. Architects and surveyors attacked the arbitrary decision to make the canopy compulsory.

Over the past few months, officials seem to have turned a deaf ear to the experts' serious concerns, especially over construction safety problems arising from the canopy.

Government has yet to provide a satisfactory safety assurance and produce reasons to support building this mammoth feature.

In fact, the huge estimated cost of canopy, exceeding HK$4 billion, makes it unpopular among bidders and critics. But senior officials support the rationale that the mandatory feature would ensure a holistic design for the 40-hectare project.

This is supposed to be a project about art, as Tsang keeps gamely insisting.

But the developers don't have any illusions about what it is.

"It's a real estate project," said a senior executive when asked about the cultural facilities. "If you want us to run museums you have to make it profitable for us."

However laudable the intentions, they don't justify the arbitrary way the project has been handled. Ministers and officials change the parameters and set up new rules to suit their purpose. Last July, the Town Planning Board surrendered its power to oversee the site.

And Tsang has categorically rejected charges of personal interests. But actions speak louder than words.

The most convincing way to refute allegations and assuage the public is reverting to the right track. Compliance with proper rules and procedures is crucial. The government should be mindful that the success of Hong Kong is built on a level-playing field and predictable policies.

For the sake of making the process "seem" to be just and impartial, an unprecedented _ but foolish _ move was made to bring in Independent Commission Against Corruption officials.

Public officers grumbled over outsiders sitting in the government senior-level internal meetings throughout the confidential bidding selection.

There are fears that more invited interference will come which will undermine the authority of the executive-led government.

In sum, what should be a chance for Hong Kong to shine is shaping up as yet another fiasco in an error-plagued administration. There is still a chance for Hong Kong to get the West Kowloon project right.

At the very least, Donald Tsang needs to tell us what the rush is all about.
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Old October 25th, 2005, 04:58 PM   #175
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Single-developer approach to hub project attacked
A review is urged, but government won't shelve the West Kowloon cultural plan
Jimmy Cheung
1 December 2004
South China Morning Post

The government suffered a major setback over the West Kowloon cultural hub project yesterday when political parties joined forces to pass a motion for a full review on the contentious "single-developer" approach.

But Chief Secretary Donald Tsang Yam-kuen said the administration would not shelve the project.

"We shouldn't stop because there are calls for us to stop. That would be irresponsible," he said after a three-hour heated debate in the Legislative Council panel on planning, lands and works.

The panel also unanimously passed another non-binding motion urging the government to extend public consultation on the project from three months to six months. A third motion that would have forced developers to divulge full financial arrangements for the project was narrowly defeated.

Defending the scheme, Mr Tsang said the public would have to fork out $11.8 billion if the government were to build the project.

"It's just pure fantasy to say that the government can restore budget balance instantly by selling the land and using the revenue to finance the cultural hub," he said.

Mr Tsang dismissed reports saying the consortium which won the right to develop the site could practically control the land supply and the property market in the near future.

He said only seven of the 40 hectares had been earmarked for property development on the West Kowloon site, whereas the government planned to release 300 hectares of land over the next five years.

With the three shortlisted proposals due for a 15-week roadshow from this month, Mr Tsang urged lawmakers to let the public decide what it wanted.

Amid calls for full disclosure on the developers' finance package, Mr Tsang warned that the public might be misled if the competing developers only selectively revealed figures at this stage.

But he promised to disclose as many details as possible when the government was close to signing a deal with the winning consortium. "We will make sure that the developer's profit is not unreasonably high," he said.

Independent democrat Albert Chan Wai-yip accused the government of again rubbing shoulders with property developers despite outcries over previous projects like the sold-off Hunghom Peninsula housing project and the single-developer Cyberport.

Mr Chan's amendment seeking to scrap the single-developer approach rather than review it was rejected by the panel.

Liberal Party leader James Tien Pei-chun also said the single-developer approach was not the only option.

"Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung called for a referendum for the public to decide what to do with the project.
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Old October 25th, 2005, 05:01 PM   #176
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Legco urges delay on West Kowloon
Sylvia Hui
1 December 2004
Hong Kong Standard

The Legislative Council on Tuesday passed separate motions calling on the government to conduct a comprehensive study on the development of the West Kowloon cultural project as a "single package" and to extend the public consultation period.

Two other motions respectively calling for the disclosures of the financial arrangements of the three bidders and for the government to shelve the HK$40 billion project were voted down.

The first three motions were proposed by Democrat Lee Wing-tat during a special Legco meeting on the development of the West Kowloon Cultural District.

The motion calling for the plan to be shelved was proposed by independent lawmaker Albert Chan.

Chief Secretary for Administration Donald Tsang was repeatedly questioned and criticised during the three-hour session.

While most legislators were critical of the government's plan to grant 30 years' rights to develop the 40-hectare site to a sole developer in what was called a "single package", Tsang defended the arrangement.

He listed 10 reasons for this, including a warning that to auction the land separately would lead to a lack of unity and infrastructural problems.

He also reiterated that it would be a waste of resources and time to rethink the whole arrangement.

But Lee, Chan and other lawmakers including Emily Lau, James To, Raymond Ho and Ronny Tong restated fears that once a developer had been granted sole rights it would be given free rein to maximise profits.

"This is obviously a very inappropriate time to go ahead with the project, judging from the heated public reaction against it. We have to shelve it," said Emily Lau, whose opinion was echoed by Leung Kwok-hung. Lawmakers also questioned the usefulness of the upcoming public consultation, and whether public views would be heeded if they disagreed with the plans of the bidders or to specific issues such as the proposed canopy.

It was agreed that the only way to give the public ample time to digest and comment on the project would be to extend the consultation period from 15 weeks to six months.

Regarding the disclosure of the developers' financial arrangements, which the government insists are confidential, Tsang said details of the winning bid will be disclosed as soon as possible before final contract signing. He offered no timetable.

The three shortlisted bidders for the project are a joint venture by Sun Hung Kai Properties and Cheung Kong Holdings; Henderson Land; and a consortium of Sino Land, Wharf Holdings and Chinese Estate Holdings.
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Old October 25th, 2005, 05:03 PM   #177
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West Kowloon museum will cater for HK children
Chloe Lai in Vancouver
2 December 2004
South China Morning Post

A children's interactive museum planned for the West Kowloon cultural district will mainly cater for Hong Kong people, especially children living in the area, says a Canadian executive involved in the proposal.

That concept of the museum, proposed by Dynamic Star International with Science World British Columbia in Canada, differs slightly from the government's vision - that museums and cultural facilities will be a destination for both locals and tourists.

Bryan Tisdall, president and chief executive of Science World British Columbia, said the museum would mainly be used by local children, especially those who lived nearby.

Asked if the children living in the district would be more important to the museum than others, Mr Tisdall said: "Our mandate is to be a museum in the West Kowloon cultural district."

He added later that children living nearby in West Kowloon would probably visit more often than children from elsewhere. He said the proposed museum would run outreach programmes to visit schools in other parts of the city.

Science World, a non-profit-making community group that operates a science centre, will develop and manage the interactive museum for Dynamic Star if the joint venture wins the bid.
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Old October 26th, 2005, 02:56 PM   #178
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Bruce Lee invoked in fight to win culture zone backing
Sylvia Hui
2 December 2004
Hong Kong Standard

West Kowloon will become home to the world's first official Bruce Lee museum as well as the region's first centre for Chinese opera if bidder Henderson Land gets its way.

In a race to gain the rights to develop the 40-hectare West Kowloon cultural project, Henderson Land, one of three competitors, is seeking to score cultural brownie points by gathering support from Hong Kong's Cantonese opera figureheads and Bruce Lee's family.

Lo King-man, the developer's artistic consultant, said the property giant is actively negotiating with Robert Lee, the kung fu legend's youngest brother, to establish a Bruce Lee museum in the proposed Museum of Moving Images at West Kowloon.

Lee fans will find family photos, clothing, and other memorabilia showcased at the museum, as well as his movies.

"The Lee family supports the plan wholeheartedly," Robert Lee said yesterday at Henderson's headquarters.

"Setting up a museum has been a long-time wish of the family and I am very grateful for the support."

There was a privately run Bruce Lee Museum at Broadway Cinematheque, Yau Ma Tei, but it closed in June 2001.

In a written reply to lawmakers on the establishment of a Bruce Lee museum, Secretary for Home Affairs Patrick Ho did not say whether the government would build such a facility to commemorate the movie star.

There is a Bruce Lee cultural centre in Shunde, Guangdong, Lee's ancestral home (although he was born in San Francisco in 1940), but Hong Kong Bruce Lee Club chairman Wong Yiu-keung said it is small and not a proper museum.

If established, the West Kowloon museum will draw Lee fans from around the world, Robert Lee said.

Meanwhile, Henderson Land has also secured support from Chan Kim-sing, chairwoman of the Chinese Artists Association of Hong Kong, a local Cantonese opera group.

The group, which has more than 1,000 members, said it needs rehearsal, performance and education space. It has submitted proposals for a Cantonese opera development at the West Kowloon site to Henderson Land and Sunny Development.

"There is a shortage of performance venues in Hong Kong," group vice-chairman Leung Hon-wai said. "We hope to have a 1,200-seat theatre as our permanent base, as well as an open-air stage where shows can be appreciated for free."

In addition to Sunny Development, a consortium led by Sino Land, Henderson's other competitor is Dynamic Star, a joint Cheung Kong Holdings and Sun Hung Kai Properties venture.
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Old October 26th, 2005, 02:59 PM   #179
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Essence of a city
Moves to develop the West Kowloon district as a cultural hub are premature while we have yet to define our city's cultural identity, say experts.

4 December 2004
South China Morning Post

Veteran cultural activist Leung Man-tao has a message for the government: Figure out Hong Kong's cultural position. And he says this should be done before the ambitious West Kowloon Cultural District project goes ahead.

It's a tough task to define Hong Kong's cultural identity?

Perhaps it lies somewhere among ancestral respect and ceremonial tradition, bun festivals, dragon boats, painted opera, domestic helpers singing songs on Sundays, developers pulling down buildings so quickly you've not had time to live in them, great South Asian food in Tsim Sha Tsui, fleshy white men on Lockhart Rd on Friday night, fireworks just about any time, Hakka fishermen, pink dolphins, red taxis and Jackie Chan movies.

The orthodox view would focus on creative flair and achievement - fine art, music and theatre. Or perhaps it has nothing to do with that at all - perhaps it's within a spirit of determination to strive and prevail, no matter what the odds, and to protect our own, as with the brave Sars workers who sacrificed themselves to heal others.

If all that makes you think, you'd better think quickly. Mr Leung, a spokesman for The People's Forum on West Kowloon, says that with the government in such a hurry to fast-track the project, there is no time to discuss the city's cultural position before the cultural hub lands fairly and squarely in our midst.

Last month, the government announced that public consultation for the cultural hub to be built on a 40-hectare site near Kowloon Station would start on December 15 and run for 15 weeks.

The multi-billion-dollar development will include at least three theatres, four museums and exhibition and performance venues. The project is being hotly debated, with full-page newspaper reports, columns, and television and radio phone-in programmes spicing up the arguments in recent weeks.

Mr Leung says cultural positioning is crucial because it will determine what kind of facilities will be housed at the West Kowloon development.

He is not alone in his thinking. Local artists and cultural representatives agree it is important to identify Hong Kong's culture before going ahead.

Mr Leung cites Germany's Berlin as an example of cultural position being successfully identified. "After seeing Paris and New York turn themselves into hubs for the world's top artists, the Berlin government recently worked out its cultural focus with its citizens and developed digital arts," he says. "Since the Berlin government poured resources into digital arts, top world artists are gathering there because they know they can meet other internationally renowned artists."

Mr Leung says identifying Hong Kong's uniqueness will help position its culture. "What do we have in Hong Kong?"

According to the Oxford dictionary, the word "culture" means the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.

Alex Hui Yat-chuen, a curator of The University of Hong Kong's Museum and Art Gallery, supports Mr Leung's interpretation of the importance of positioning Hong Kong's culture. He says the unique part of the city's cultural heritage comes from its history since 1841.

"Our history {hellip} the pre-colonial part is really not much different from the rest of China at the time," says Mr Hui, who is a heritage expert. "But since 1841, in a way, Hong Kong has been a new frontier for new immigrants. They came from all parts of the world and tried to build their lives and homes here."

Mr Hui is critical of the government's cultural development efforts. "The government is trying to promote Hong Kong as a brand, but who needs that?" he says. "A brand is only a label. It is paper-thin and is only a kind of packaging, but not the meat."

He says the right approach is to identify the local way of life, evaluate its values and see if they are worth preserving.

"For example, if we identify cha chaan teng [a local cafe serving Chinese food] as part of our culture, we will then have to study its origin and its role in society," he says. "It is wrong that the government is holding courses to teach young people to mix nai-cha [milk tea] for cha chaan teng, when cha chaan tengs have their drinks masters who have developed their individual styles according to customers' tastes over many years."

Mr Hui says it is not enough for the government to identify local culture - it must first consult the public.

Oscar Ho Hing-kay, chairman of the Hong Kong chapter of the International Art Critics Association, says photography is among the local arts with the potential to be developed as part of the city's culture.

"Hong Kong's photography was doing very well in the mid-19th century. In fact, it can be said Hong Kong brought photography to China. But it has been a much-ignored area in Hong Kong," he says, adding that the city's photography has recorded telling characteristics of local culture.

Mr Ho also points to Hong Kong's pop culture, including comics and Canto-pop songs, which are outstanding in their genre and have attracted academic studies.

But Jimmy Pang Chi-ming, publisher of Subculture Ltd, has long been disenchanted with Hong Kong's pop culture, including pop songs and television programmes. "Some low-quality television programmes have attracted mass audiences, while halls staging performances of renowned orchestras or dramas aren't filled," he says.

Mr Pang says it is ironic that his company has to publish pop material so that more serious books can be produced. He criticises the government for not making enough of an effort to promote sophisticated culture.

Ko Tin-lung, artistic director of the Chung Ying Theatre, says Hong Kong's culture can be seen from its people's creations, as with drama. But he believes Hong Kong culture does not have its own identity. "Hong Kong is dynamic, things keep changing, and that is what makes this city exciting," he says. "You don't know what will happen in Hong Kong tomorrow."

Mr Ko cites what he saw recently in Japan and the mainland as examples that could reflect Hong Kong's culture. He says theatres and cinemas in Japan do not remind people to turn off their mobile phones before a stage drama or movie.

"It is their culture," he says. "There is no need to remind people to switch off the phones. On the other hand, in a mainland province, I saw people taking their lunchboxes into the theatre. I think Hong Kong's culture is somewhere between Japan and China. We have our mobile phones on, but no lunchbox, when we see a drama."

The Home Affairs Bureau is responsible for arts and cultural policies, while the Leisure and Cultural Services Department implements them.

A bureau spokesman says the government aims to create an environment conducive to free artistic _expression and encourage wider participation in cultural activities.

"We believe the government should not dominate the arts scene and develop a unique culture for Hong Kong," he says. "In fact, the uniqueness of Hong Kong's culture is in its fusion and diversity. We have colonial heritage and western experience on the one hand, and Chinese traditional values with Hong Kong practices on the other."

The government spent $2.43 billion in 2003-04 on cultural and arts activities, while $2.54 billion was spent in 2001-02.

While artists, cultural critics and the government tend to relate culture with arts, people interviewed by the Post have their own definitions.

Final year Hong Kong University (HKU) mechanical engineering student Samson Leung Tik-hei says Canto-pop is a significant and unique part of our culture. "Cantonese came from the mainland, but the mainland did not have Canto-pop in the early days. Canto-pop started in Hong Kong and much later in China," he says.

Mr Leung, who is also a freelance violin teacher, says Hong Kong has the potential to develop music and a music appreciation culture. "I find that Hong Kong has a lot of private music learning centres. My brother, who is studying in Sydney, says there are no such centres there," he says.

"I think the government could develop a musical culture by making skills in a musical instrument a prerequisite for school enrolment."

Joe Liu Chi-wing, 26, a bank customer service officer, defines local culture as a combination of Chinese traditions, festivals, food and a western working style.

Clarence Tong, an electrical engineer, interprets the concept as long working hours and singing karaoke.

Benny Man Ka-shing, a HKU music student, says it is "doing things in a hurry and money-grabbing".

Chinese University arts administrator Hardy Tsoi Sik-cheong says the government should develop the idea of Hong Kong's own culture.

"With colonial governance, governments normally do not pay attention to a territory's cultural development. But as Hong Kong has re-united with China, the government should gear up to develop our own culture," says Mr Tsoi, who is also a member of the Arts Development Council.
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Old October 26th, 2005, 03:01 PM   #180
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The name that oozes culture
The man behind Guggenheim talks to Carrie Chan about what the museum will mean for Hong Kong

1147 Words
4 December 2004
South China Morning Post

After addressing the Hong Kong-organised Asia Cultural Co-operation Forum last month, Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation director Thomas Krens found himself being grilled about a potential museum in the West Kowloon Cultural District.

A tireless and articulate man, who has negotiated deals with Japan, Taiwan and China, Mr Krens has made a final decision to sell the global museum to Hong Kong, a city known for its economic rather than cultural achievements.

As the institution's head since 1988, he said Sir Norman Foster's giant canopy design for the district boosted his confidence in the city.

"I was in London and New York and I met Norman Foster a few times," he said. "When I looked at the Foster plan, I saw how advanced it was. If you could see the canopy from the moon, it would be very interesting.

"This is an opportunity to work with one of the greatest architects to design something very special in a very special place."

If the truth be told, architectural design has been the biggest crowd-pulling element at Guggenheim museums. The Guggenheims in New York and Bilbao, each with more than a million visitors so far, are the most popular among the five Guggenheim museums around the world.

New Yorkers say the architecture of the spiral Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum designed by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright is greater than the art.

The Bilbao museum, completed in 1997, draws crowds with its curving and tilting metal-clad forms designed by Canadian architect Frank Gehry. The building also brought international attention to the formerly quiet and abandoned Spanish industrial town.

"My theory of a global museum is its architecture should raise questions of how art should be consumed and pushes the boundary of what a museum should be," Mr Krens said. "Should the gallery space be predefined or should it be flexible is a fundamental question [for museum operators]."

Despite Mr Krens' grand plan for a museum in Asia, talks with Asian cities have stirred controversy over the past decade and raise questions of whether Hong Kong will ever see one open. Since 1991, the foundation has attempted four commercial joint ventures in Japan - three in Tokyo and one in Osaka. All fell through.

It was close to landing a deal with Shanghai a few years ago, but that plan came to an end when the officials involved were promoted and urban planning for the Pudong area was altered.

Last year, Mr Krens unveiled a project in Taichung, Taiwan, with renowned deconstructionist architect Zaha Hadid. When in Hong Kong, he would not say whether the Taichung project would be realised, but Taiwanese media reported that the foundation had not received promised funds from the national government.

Mr Krens was also silent on the Las Vegas branch's closure and plans for Rio de Janeiro and New York that have been put on hold.

Guggenheim's business model, which dictates that the host city pay to use the Guggenheim brand, could be a difficulty for some cities. The museums would then be filled by a rotation of the foundation's vast art holdings. What gives Hong Kong the edge over the rest is perhaps its willingness to invest.

"Over the past 30 months we have been approached by over 120 cities around the world. But being approached does not necessarily lead to a courtship and a marriage," Mr Krens said.

"To build a world-class museum, we are not the investors. Three-fourths of people leave at this point and many others are driven away when we say 'this is what it will cost'. I also cannot just pick cities if there is not a critical mass of resources."

Mr Krens did not deny that Guggenheim's bid for a place in Hong Kong was initiated by Cheung Kong (Holdings). Cheung Kong and Sun Hung Kai Properties submitted a West Kowloon Cultural District proposal in a joint venture under the name Dynamic Star International.

"Every developer in Hong Kong came to us. Cheung Kong indeed has been very persistent. I was in Asia a few times and I met [group vice-chairman] Victor Li Tzar-kuoi. We made a deal in April."

Mr Krens described himself as a "bystander" and refrained from any strong criticism of the government's policy. "I wish I could have participated in the discussion," he said. "But now I have been presented with a situation. I have to work within the parameters."

He said the government's approach to the project was new to him. "Can you put four museums and three performing arts venues in one location?" he asked. "The developer is responsible for operating it for 30 years.

"But there are different ways of doing it. The West Kowloon Cultural District is something unique. Cultural institutions create value and there'll be value added to real estate and commercial development."

With some Hong Kong cultural critics worried about the encroachment of foreign arts and the marginalisation of local culture, how would Mr Krens position Guggenheim in Hong Kong?

"A global museum is based on the idea that culture should not be a strictly local concern," he said. "The tension, the discussion and dialogue between global and local is what defines the Guggenheim.

"But how would I capture the essence of Hong Kong? I'm not there yet. We can bring the best part of western culture, which is not opposed here."

Mr Krens said it would be world-class programmes and the architecture that drew the crowds. His preliminary plan would be to have a third of the space dedicated to global exhibitions, another third to regional organisations and the rest for local projects.

"What we have here is an MTV crowd," he said. "I have a feeling the audience might get bored with an 18th century painting. You have to make the museum an object of desire. As a director, you need to think about how to satisfy scholarship and the cultural narrative, as well as make something cool and hip."

What if West Kowloon does not go forward? "There will still be interest in this area," Mr Krens said. "This region is going through a powerful economic transformation. There will be creation of museums in Shanghai and the Olympics in Beijing.

"There's been a discussion that what Hong Kong needs is world-class cultural institutions and the question is how to get it done as soon as possible. Hong Kong can't afford to wait that long.

"Culture can be used intelligently as a vehicle for urban development, and Bilbao has successfully used culture as a driver. It is still a contemplative subject but I think it is a question that Hong Kong faces."
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