With the Queen's Pier conservation conflict still fresh in people's minds, hopes have been raised that historic Wan Chai Market will not fall to the wrecker's ball.
Lau Wai-ming, executive director of mid-tier developer Chinese Estates, said on Friday that the company is still in talks with the Urban Renewal Authority on the future of the market building.
His remarks have raised optimism the 70-year-old building on Queen's Road East may be saved.
According to original plans agreed in 1996, Chinese Estates - controlled by billionaire Joseph Lau Luen-hung - and the URA are to jointly redevelop the site and turn it into a luxury residential-commercial complex.
"We know that preserving a historic monument has become a matter of great concern to the government and the community," Lau Wai-ming said. "We need to discuss with our partner [the URA] first before taking a stand on the issue. We still have not decided whether Wan Chai Market will be preserved or not. Yet retaining the market will certainly increase the cost of our residential project."
The authority has also confirmed it is discussing the market's future with the developer and that both parties will have to abide by their legal responsibilities and contract terms.
URA executive director Iris Tam Siu-ying told the Legislative Council two months ago the authority is obliged to honor the spirit of its contract with the developer.
Many of the stall owners at Wan Chai Market have said they will not move to a new government-owned indoor market nearby without satisfactory compensation.
Built in 1937, the market has been declared a Grade 3 historic building.
Its Streamline Moderne architectural style, with curvilinear profiles of parapets, railings and overhangs, was popular in the 1930s and has become a rarity in Hong Kong.
Chinese Estates plans to demolish the market soon to make way for The Zenith, which is being constructed in two phases. Phase One has been completed and the company has raked in HK$370 million from sales of the flats.
Construction work on Phase Two, requiring the demolition of Wan Chai Market building, is due to start early next year, for completion by mid-2011.
Vincent Ng Wing-shun, former president of the Hong Kong Institute of Architects, said if Wan Chai Market were retained, it would set a good precedent for government policy on historic buildings in future.
Ng said the government might be anxious to make up for the Queen's Pier ruckus and avoid turning Wan Chai Market into the next conservation battleground.
"They really have to deliver it this time to show their sincerity and determination in achieving results. The government also has to seriously revamp its heritage policy," Ng said.
Lawmaker Patrick Lau Sau-shing, who represents the architecture sector, said he believed there is still room for negotiations to preserve Wan Chai Market.
"Of course, it's best to keep it. To begin dialogue is already a show of sincerity by both sides," he said.
However, James Tien Pei-chun, leader of the business-oriented Liberal Party, warned that any detour from the original agreement may hit developers' confidence.
"When a developer enters into a contract with the government, the contract itself should be honored," Tien said.
"The government should also let heritage conservation be part of the agreement as soon as possible."
Patsy Cheng Man-wah, of heritage advocacy group See Network, said what was more important was whether the government could keep up with conservation trends globally.