Park scheme lacks convincing theme

Editorial | Mary Ma 20 Jan 2021

Having already committed to bailing Ocean Park out of its fiasco, is it too late for the government to back out now that the theme park has come up with a fresh demand for more from taxpayers?

It's a little comfort that I am still actually able to call Ocean Park a theme park.

That's because - if its so-called new business model is allowed to break up the iconic site into contracted or subcontracted venues - we may no longer be able to say it's a theme park.

Those days would just become part of Hongkongers' collective memory.

Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau Tang-wah was rather generous towards Ocean Park's new demand for HK$1.67 billion. He even proudly pointed out it was a one-off grant giving the theme park the necessary flexibility to transition to the new business model.

Yau seemed to be still living the dream of those good old days when money was the last thing to worry about. If that's the case, it is time for him to give his mindset a reboot.

Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po warned us the other day to get ready for hard times ahead as he tried to cool down expectations of further handouts in his budget next month.

And the latest figures released yesterday show the SAR's unemployment rate has climbed to 6.6 percent to hit a 16-year high.

According to Yau, the HK$1.67 billion would be given to Ocean Park as a grant, not even as a loan. It does not make good sense to be so generous in these difficult times when the money could be spent more meaningfully elsewhere.

Perhaps the government feels it is too late to pull itself out of the quagmire.

The idea of turning Ocean Park into something neither here nor there not only fails to impress, but is also rather bizarre.

After the proposed transformation, the lower section of land would be open to the public for free, with the restaurants there contracted out to run on their own.

Meanwhile, the various amusement facilities on the upper land area would individually charge a fee per use.

It sounds a little like a shopping mall where the landlord charges tenants various rents.

In the proposed scenario, the Ocean Park Corporation would become the government's principal tenant, sub-letting the space and facilities to others.

Although this would generate rental income and spare the management the trouble of running a huge theme park while looking at balancing the books, it would be done at the expense of the theme park that it is meant to be.

Perhaps we should then start calling it Wong Chuk Hang Garden rather than Ocean Park.

Yau will have to appear before the Finance Committee to ask for the additional money, and the request should not be rubber-stamped without thorough scrutiny.

If the management is not keen to rejuvenate Ocean Park, it should get someone else - like Zhuhai's Chimelong - to take it over.

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