Prime harbourfront plot in Central should become world-class destination blending commerce with public spaces, designers say

Sandy Li
·4-min read

A parcel of prime land at Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour to be sold in a rare tender process that values design merits as much as cost is likely to be transformed into a vibrant waterfront hub blending office and retail facilities with bustling public spaces, say industry experts.

Under the government’s “two envelope” approach for the sale of New Central Harbourfront Commercial Site 3, submitted bids will be evaluated based on the quality of their design as well as the estimated cost of development.

According to the Planning Department’s zoning plan, half of the 516,316 square foot site will be allocated for public open spaces.

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“The creation of new and contemporary public realms integrated within city life is crucial to simultaneously transform and unite Hong Kong with its Central waterfront,” said Mark Blackwell, creative director at Morphis, which won the international design competition for Kai Tak City Public Realm in 2015.

He anticipates Site 3 becoming a world-class destination promoting healthy and sustainable living, with an ensemble of curated experiences for everyone to enjoy framed with new commercial and residential buildings.

“The infrastructure is in place, it’s now time to deliver a true setting to a world-class skyline,” said Blackwell.

The planning brief encourages features such as plazas, food kiosks and open-air cafes in designs for the public open space.

The parcel, next to the International Finance Centre, is believed to be the most expensive site in Hong Kong. Colliers International estimates it could fetch HK$40 billion (US$5.16 billion) to HK$60 billion, or HK$23,225 to HK$37,160 per square foot.

It could yield a total gross floor area of 1.61 million sq ft of commercial space, mainly for office and retail. The site will not, however, house any skyscrapers – the western portion of the plot is limited to a building height of 50 metres, or less than 13 floors, according to Colliers, while the eastern part, mostly for retail and government facilities, caps the height at 16 metre, or five floors

“As the height restriction will limit a skyscraper design and sea views, the quality of the building and facilities needs to be outstanding in order to attract tenants,” said Hannah Jeong, head of valuation and advisory services at Colliers.

Given that Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s 2020 Policy Address discussed Hong Kong targeting carbon neutrality by 2050, she said it was essential the designs are environmentally-friendly.

One particularly ambitious plan for the development has been put forward by William Cheng Kai-man, the chairman of Magnificent Hotel Investments, which operates seven hotels in Hong Kong.

He has proposed the construction of an 800-metre underwater Cross-Harbour Tunnel, exclusively for pedestrians, connecting the site to Tsim Sha Tsui MTR station.

“It is just like building the fourth Cross-Harbour Tunnel. But this one will be for shoppers and tourists,” said Cheng, who is also a structural engineer.

The proposed tunnel, comprising 200 to 300 shops, could take two years to complete at an estimated cost of about HK$25 billion, he added. Cheng submitted his proposal to the Chief Executive in November.

Cheng’s company owns seven hotels in prime locations: four under the Best Western brand in Causeway Bay and Tsim Sha Tsui and three under the Ramada brand in North Point, Tsim Sha Tsui and Sai Ying Pun.

He believes this tunnel could draw 50 million shoppers per year.

“Hong Kong badly needs to create something unique to attract global tourists after the coronavirus pandemic is under control,” said Cheng.

Although the plot is mainly for destined for office and retail use, adding an ultra-luxury hotel is a must, according to one consultant.

“While a hotel may not provide the highest financial returns, mixed-use developments often gain a distinct character by featuring a hotel,” said Dan Voellm, CEO and founder of AP Hospitality Advisors.

The tender for New Central Harbourfront Commercial Site 3 opened on December 18 and will be closed for submissions on June 18.

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