Hengqin platform for tourism play

| 6 May 2019

Gary Poon

Lai Fung Holdings (1125), the mainland business arm of Lai Sun Group, is to open soon a movie-themed entertainment center and other facilities of the phase one at its Hengqin project Novotown.

The 18 billion yuan (HK$20.97 billion) project, about a 10-minute drive from Macau, aims to become an entertainment hub and a cultural and creative incubator for the Greater Bay Area.

Phase one of Novotown is 2.8 million square feet, including indoor entertainment center Lionsgate Entertainment World, edutainment center National Geographic Ultimate Explorer, health care and beauty cultural center, 494-room Hyatt Regency Hotel, event venues, and retail outlets.

The senior vice president and managing director for the project, Larry Leung Ho-cheong, says the project entered pre-opening stage and target to open the indoor movie-themed entertainment center in summer, while other facilities would be launched by the end of this year.

Over 50 percent area of the phase one project is related to tourism and the remaining space is for office use.

He says the demand for office space is continuing to increase as some Macau companies move the back offices to Hengqin and spare some areas for developing higher return projects.

"I estimate that the rental cost could be reduced by at least 50 percent if the company office moves from Macau to Hengqin."

Meanwhile, qualified Hong Kong corporations, such as tourism related companies, can enjoy a 15 percent reduction of the corporate income tax when operating in Hengqin.

Lai Fung acquired the plot measuring 280,000 square meters for Novotown phase two last year. The development theme would be sports and education. The developer cooperated with Spain's Real Madrid and Italy's motorcycle brand Ducati to develop football experience and motorcycle experience theme centers in phase two.

Meanwhile, Harrow International associated school Innovation Leadership Academy, also located in the project, is expected to open in September 2020. It will offer grade 7 to 12 education for almost 900 students.

"ILA Hengqin would adopt bilingual education styles and a carefully-designed mix of Chinese National and International curriculum."

Leung says Lai Fung has signed a framework agreement with the Hengqin government on the project and phase three to five will be launched in batches. The project may be completed by 2025.

Leung says the group sees many opportunities in Hengqin after Beijing positioned it as a special economic zone in 2009 and free trade zone in 2015.

"The then Vice President Xi Jinping, suggested developing Hengqin in 2009 in China's 12th five-year plan and visited three times between 2012 and 2018. Meanwhile, some of Macau's education organizations have moved to Hengqin since 2013, such as the University of Macau.

"The central government positioned Hengqin to be a place assisting the economic development of Macau," he says and points out that the management saw the development potential of Hengqin and decided to develop Novotown in 2011.

Besides Novotown, Lai Fung has a few investment projects in Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Zhongshan.

He says many governments and organizations have invited Lai Fung to invest in cities or projects but the group would only consider them based on fundamentals.

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