A HK$300 million facelift aimed at revitalizing Wan Chai was unveiled yesterday, saving the 70-year-old Wan Chai market and redesigning the former Wedding Card Street into a "Wedding City."
In addition, nine prewar buildings including the famed "Blue House" will house social enterprises while current residents who wish to stay will be allowed to do so.
The Grade III Historic Wan Chai market building has been the center of a heated conservation battle.
It has been part of the redevelopment joint venture between the Urban Renewal Authority and the developer, Chinese Estates, dating back to 1996 and was scheduled to be demolished early next year to make way for a luxury residential complex.
In a joint announcement with the Development Bureau, the authority said the building would now be saved from the wrecker's ball. Instead, a 148-meter residential tower will sit atop the 12-meter market, its facade preserved along with its curved wall surfaces, cantilevering sun-shading fins and symmetrical elevation.
The front of the building will become a 929-square-meter shopping arcade and a parking lot and lift shafts will stand at the back where its eight supporting pillars stand.
The 70 hawkers stalls operating in the market will be allocated to a new market complex nearby, the authority confirmed.
Authority chairman Barry Cheung Chun-yuen called it an "innovation" in heritage conservation rarely seen in Hong Kong, though the merging of old and new buildings is not unusual in foreign countries.
The change was a balancing act between a rising call for the building's conservation and respect for the contractual spirit, the authority said.
The authority said it drew conservation examples from other places, such as the Hearst Tower in New York City and the Peninsula Hotel extension in Hong Kong.
Lee Tung Street, once the vibrant "Wedding Card Street," had became a conservation battleground since it was vacated for redevelopment a few years ago.
The block will now become a "Wedding City," a hub for wedding-related businesses, such as wedding gowns, flowers, cakes and photo studios.
Also, a wedding traditions and culture gallery will be housed in one of the three conserved prewar Canton verandah-style buildings.
Cheung said the 27 wedding card shops previously operating there will be given priority to return. They may also be given free rent for a period of time as an added incentive.
The proposed wedding hub is similar to the vibrant Bridal Gown Street which occupied a chunk of Shanghai Street and was demolished in the 1990s for the development of the Langham Place complex.
Residents of the 34 households in nine prewar buildings, including the 70-year-old Grade I historic building "Blue House," will be allowed to stay if they so choose.
Non-government groups can apply to re-use these buildings for social enterprises, with the provision that residents can live alongside these enterprises.
Development chief Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said although the arrangement could be complicated, residents will at least be given a choice, a vast contrast to previous practices.
The total cost of the facelift will amount to HK$300 million.
Lee Ho-yin, director of Hong Kong University's architectural conservation program, said the plan may set new standards of conservation in Hong Kong.
Activist Sin Wai-fong said the authority had failed to lay out concrete details for former owners of the Lee Tung Street shops.