White elephant lays golden eggs

Editorial | Mary Ma 28 Sep 2021

The appointment of a seasoned executive from the property sector to the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority as it is about to launch its main exhibition facilities bears implications on at least two levels: first, the challenges facing it; and second, the hopes being expected.

Wendy Gan Kim-see will join the authority in November to assume the newly created position of deputy chief executive officer, reporting directly to CEO Betty Fung Ching Suk-yee, who is no stranger to Hongkongers.

She is a seasoned administrative officer within the government and is believed to be strongly supported by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor.

Since Duncan Pescod, also an ex-government official, stepped down as CEO of the authority before the end of his tenure, Fung has been acting as CEO.

She formally takes over as CEO in the middle of next month.

Throughout the painful history of the West Kowloon project, the authority's leadership has been dominated by former government officials.

The announcement that a veteran from the private sector has been appointed to the No 2 position in the daily operations certainly produces some freshness to a project that seems to have been perpetually under construction.

The iconic M+ museum is due to open in less than two months. Construction of the Hong Kong Palace Museum is also in the final stage and may open to the public in July 2022.

Their openings will be milestones for the marathon project.

It's clear from its announcement that the authority is seriously concerned about the sustainability of the cultural district.

This is inferred in its elaborate reference to Gan's holistic background in project management from planning, construction, marketing and branding to operations and property management.

It stresses that Gan was former executive director of Pacific Century Premium Developments in charge of the overall sales and marketing strategies of property assets in Greater China, Japan and Southeast Asia.

Prior to joining Pacific Century, she led the sales and marketing teams of Swire Properties, overseeing the residential, office and retail portfolio.

Besides some standard words of expectation for her to bring strategic insights to the authority, the important point is that Gan will have the lead responsibility for formulating strategies for driving business development and for the hotel, office, residential, retail, dining and entertainment developments in the cultural district.

They are all about money and cash flow.

Concerns and expectations surrounding the project are well founded. Since it was announced more than 20 years ago, it has suffered a number of delays and, even worse, budget inflation to become one of the SAR's most notorious white elephants.

Lawmakers were asked to dig deep in the public purse to foot the exploding bill.

It would be a bonus if taxpayers can recover the investment - though this is unlikely. It will be considered successful if the cultural district can survive on its own after facilities open.

This is the challenge facing the project and Gan, whose impressive record also raises hopes.

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