How land premiums leave HK with fewer music venues

While attention was focused on Singapore’s exclusive deal to host Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour concerts and Lionel Messi’s absence from a Hong Kong exhibition march, the city’s jazz fans were excited at a planned visit by three times Grammy Award winner Diana Krall. 

Diana Krall. Photo: Diana Krall.

I share the disappointment over Messi and Swift even though it had nothing to do with me. Krall is another story: I texted my friends about the concerts. Her live appearance in Hong Kong is a mega event, as important as an LVMH fashion show in Tsim Sha Tsui or a Mirror concert. 

Then I was taken aback to learn that the concert will take place at Tsuen Wan Town Hall, which has been hosting jazz events recently. It is good that jazz now has a home venue but a prime location such as City Hall would be even better. Stacey Kant’s concert last year was staged in the Xiqu Centre in the West Kowloon Cultural District. 

Is the choice of Tsuen Wan because of a lack of performing arts venues? Maybe, maybe not. I am still grateful that someone brought her to Hong Kong. 

red curtains theatre red curtains theatre
File photo: Bartek Miskiewicz, via Flickr CC2.0.

Whatever the reasons, it is well known that the city is short of venues for performing arts. So I was greatly disappointed to hear that Hysan Development and Chinachem Group may have to drop a planned performing arts space, that was set to be run by an NGO at their Caroline Hill Road development. 

Two years ago, the developers announced plans to include a performing arts venue in their joint-venture, three-tower commercial development in Causeway Bay. Hysan and Chinachem proposed incorporating community facilities including a venue for performing arts and culture, centres for the elderly and children and a healthcare clinic. 

But, last month, the two developers announced that they could be forced to drop the cultural space in favour of a park because the Lands Department will charge a commercial land premium for an arts and cultural venue. 

This is a peculiar decision when the government as a whole acknowledges that arts and culture cannot survive without subsidies. The Home Affairs Bureau has guaranteed financial support for nine major arts groups and grants for smaller ones. The Arts Development Council was set up to support arts groups and artists. The Hong Kong Film Development Council encourages young filmmakers. Despite the HK$21.6 billion government upfront payment in 2008, the West Kowloon Cultural District will be running out of cash in 2025. 

When it comes to inter-city competition, there is a Mega Arts and Cultural Events Fund to lure internationally renowned artists and performances to Hong Kong. In the case of Taylor Swift performing in Singapore, she received US$2-3 million for exclusively performing in the city state and skipping the rest of Southeast Asia. 

West Kowloon Cultural DistrictWest Kowloon Cultural District
West Kowloon Cultural District. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

Leading geographer David Harvey coined the term “urban entrepreneurialism” to describe the changing nature of inter-city competition over the past three decades.  Local governments became actively involved in making their cities more competitive, bringing in jobs and investment. 

Whether the aim is to enrich the cultural life of locals, promote Hong Kong as Asia’s events capital or boost the economy, the city needs more arts and cultural spaces in prime locations. It is a shame that we may lose one such venue because the Lands Department believes that arts and culture should pay a commercial land premium.


Type of Story: Opinion

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