Hong Kong breaks ground on venue designs

China creating more opportunities for performances

NEW YORK — It’s not that the performing arts scene in Hong Kong hasn’t steadily grown over the last 20 years. It’s that Hong Kong hasn’t had the facilities to accommodate it all.

“We always hear, ‘David Bowie couldn’t book,’ ” says Agnes Tang, assistant director, performing arts, of the Hong Kong Leisure and Cultural Services Dept., offering an example of the stage shortage. “Maybe there is a business opportunity here.”

Tang and her colleague Winsome Chow, the department’s chief manager of Arts Orgs, Fests and Entertainment, were in Gotham last week for a meeting of the Intl. Society for the Performing Arts. The pair are gearing up for ISPA’s 20th annual congress, to be held in Hong Kong June 8-11.

ISPA bills the region as the quickest-expanding performing arts market in Asia.

“Hong Kong is at the center of a marketplace that is developing rapidly,” Chow says. “China is opening up a lot, and they are eager to show us their artists, looking for opportunities to grow.”

Promoters find value for money a tricky equation in Hong Kong and sometimes take bigger acts to mega-venues in Korea or Thailand, where the largest venues offer a lower unit-cost solution.

The 12,500-seat Hong Kong Coliseum, which is popular with local and regional acts, and a venue at the old Kai Tak airport, where Celine Dion has played, are regarded as pricey. The Hong Kong Stadium is popular and more intimate. But it is awkwardly situated in a residential area that places restrictions on performances.

However, Hong Kong can scarcely be accused of not responding. Last month, it opened the HK$2.36 billion ($305 million) AsiaWorld Expo on Lantau Island, close to the new airport and only 25 minutes from the Central district by express subway train. AsiaWorld Expo has 10 exhibition and event halls, including the 13,500-seat AsiaWorld Arena, where Britpop giants Oasis play Feb. 25. On a previous visit, they played the Coliseum.

Also helping Hong Kong catch up: the West Kowloon Cultural District, a proposed $3.87 billion development on 40 hectares (about 99 acres) of reclaimed land at the southern tip of the Kowloon peninsula.

The core facilities will include a 10,000-seat performance space and three theaters, ranging in size from 400 seats to 2,000 seats.

Those spaces will help provide stages for local productions, from troupes such as the Hong Kong Repertory Theater or traveling international offerings like “The History Boys,” London’s National Theater production that will play the Hong Kong Arts Festival in February before landing on Broadway in April.

Also planned for the complex are four museums, an art-exhibition space of more than 100,000 square feet, a water amphitheater and four piazzas, all under a giant canopy that will cover at least 55% of the district.

Proposed timeline aims to break ground in April 2007 and open the first phase of the project in 2011.

The nearly $4 billion required for all this won’t be coming from the government, but from the yet-to-be-selected developers of the site.

“The government has always been accused of doing too much,” Tang says. “Now it wants to shift its role from being a doer to being a facilitator.”

Patrick Frater in Hong Kong contributed to this report.

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