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Wan Chai Market: Core Elements Preservation

Local Characters reinforced by a Thematic Wedding City in Wan Chai

The Urban Renewal Authority (URA) today (Thursday) unveiled plans to create a "Wedding City" featuring Hong Kong's first wedding traditions and culture gallery as well as a social enterprise pilot scheme in the Lee Tung Street redevelopment project in Wan Chai.

Announcing the plans at a press briefing, the Chairman of the URA, Mr Barry Cheung, explained that the idea was to bring back wedding related shops and businesses to give a local character of Lee Tung Street which was destined for redeveloping into a new community hub of shopping, culture and leisure. All wedding card shops formerly operating in Lee Tung Street will be offered priority to lease premises to operate their businesses in the Wedding City.

"The Wedding City will be thematically designed and decorated, and will provide about 30,000 square feet retail net floor space which is more than twice as big as the area of all the former wedding card shops combined.  Corresponding decor, art work and sculpturing will be applied to part of the open space adjacent to the Wedding City to create a strong ambience.  

"We hope that the Wedding City will become not only an icon of Wan Chai but also a landmark of Hong Kong," Mr Cheung said.

"The unique identity of a place is the best way to attract people and business. The wedding card shops had once given Lee Tung Street a unique local character. Therefore, adopting a wedding theme for the future development serves appropriately as a link to the past," he said.

"Soon after we commenced the project in late 2003, we had already said that wedding related trades would be considered as a theme for local character and commercial activities after redevelopment," he added.

The Wedding City will be located in two adjoining commercial blocks and a row of three preserved pre-war shop-houses on the Queen's Road East side of the project. In addition to wedding card shops, it will cater for a wide range of wedding related trades and services such as wedding dresses and gowns, flowers, cakes, hair-salons, jewellery, photo studios, limousine rentals, wedding party and banquet organizers, and venue decoration.

"We understand that most of the wedding card shops formerly in the project site have relocated themselves in the vicinity.  As the redevelopment will not be completed until about 2011, we will give them ample notice to consider if they would wish to become part of the Wedding City.

"Although it is obviously too early for us to talk about leasing in absolute terms, we will seriously consider offering them competitive lease terms in the initial tenancies. We will inform the operators of details of the leasing arrangements as soon as practicable," Mr Cheung said.

The Wedding Traditions and Culture Gallery will be located inside one of the three pre-war Canton verandah-style buildings that will be conserved and fully refurbished.

"As a place where the East meets the West, Hong Kong has very rich and interesting traditions and culture that justify the setting up of a cultural gallery for collective memory. The Wedding City and its venerable pre-war buildings are an ideal location for this gallery," the URA Chairman said.

Social Enterprise Pilot Scheme

Separately, as a pilot scheme, the URA will designate about 6,500 square feet of net floor area for the formation and operation of a social enterprise centre with the aim of preserving and strengthening social networks in the district.

The space will be provided to social enterprise operators at welfare rent with first tenancies of three years.

"Bidding for space will be open to community service groups but we would prefer to see operators who have a really good knowledge of Wan Chai, especially if such operators would allow former residents affected by the project to take part in whatever social enterprise activities they propose to implement," Mr Cheung said.

"They may operate businesses which are committed to employing the less skilled people in Wan Chai and to serving the local community.  For example, they may run cafeterias, home care services for the elderly, mobile home cleansing services for the disabled, repair and renovation services, resale of second hand goods, etc."

If the pilot scheme is successful, the URA will consider setting up similar social enterprise centres in other redevelopment projects where suitable space is available.

Wan Chai Market Building Preservation

Mr Barry Cheung also disclosed at the press briefing that the URA was working on a proposal to resolve the dilemma of preserving the old Wan Chai Market Building and at the same time honouring the redevelopment contract that its predecessor, the Land Development Corporation, signed with a joint venture developer over 10 years ago.

"This is indeed a very difficult situation. Demolition of the market building to make way for redevelopment of a residential tower was approved by Government and signed and sealed with the developer back in 1996. It would be most unbecoming to a statutory body like the URA to fail in honouring such a commercial contract. Yet we appreciate the community's current concerns to preserve this building and we want to respond as positively as circumstances permit," Mr Cheung said.

"After many discussions with the joint venture developer, we are now seriously considering the feasibility of taking a 'core elements preservation' approach to save the market.

This approach would make it possible to preserve key elements of the market building in-situ, including the entire exterior and façade, the main interior structural elements as well as a good portion of the original floors.

Instead of starting at ground level, as originally planned, the residential tower will now be supported by piles going through the rear part of the market floors and will rise above the rooftop of the preserved market.

As far as we know, this is a rare engineering attempt in Hong Kong for the purpose of conservation, although it is not entirely uncommon in preservation-cum-redevelopment projects in some developed countries," Mr Cheung said.

"To further reinforce the conservation elements, we are also exploring whether we can design the exterior in such a way as to match and blend in with the 'fin-like' cantilevers of the market building façade as much as practicable," he added.

Details of this proposal are still under discussion with the joint venture partner. If all goes well, the URA aims to submit a revised master layout plan to the Town Planning Board early next year.