The Board of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority (WKCDA or the Authority) held its 88th meeting today. At the meeting, WKCDA’s Chief Executive Officer Mr Duncan Pescod welcomed Mr Paul Tam to join WKCDA as Executive Director, Performing Arts (EDPA). Mr Tam will lead the Performing Arts Division to deliver world-class programmes and oversee operations of the award-winning performing arts venues and facilities in the West Kowloon Cultural District (West Kowloon or the District). He is responsible for steering the strategic planning and sustainable development of these venues and overseeing their business direction, artistic development, venue operations, technical and production, facilities planning and delivery.

Mr Pescod was delighted to report the approval by the Legislative Council (LegCo) Finance Committee of the public infrastructure works funding application on 20 March 2020. The works include the Artist Square Bridge and the remaining works for the Integrated Basement for the District.

Mr Pescod expressed his gratitude to the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (the Government), especially the Home Affairs Bureau, for their staunch support for the District projects. He also thanked the LegCo members for voting for this important funding.

With this approval, WKCDA enters a new phase of District development. The construction of the main portion of the Integrated Basement is a pre-requisite for any topside developments in the remaining sections of the project. The approved funding will make new cultural and commercial development in this area possible. The commercial development of Hotel/Offices/Residential (HOR) buildings, in particular, is key to the long-term sustainability of West Kowloon as this will become an important source of recurrent income for the Authority. Of equal importance, the funding approval indicates that WKCDA can now commence construction of the Artist Square Bridge, which will make the District more accessible to the nearby transportation hub located at Kowloon Station and significantly enhance the connectivity of the District.

The Authority will start processing related works for the basement and the detailed preparatory work for both the remaining core arts and culture facilities and the HOR development packages.

Mr Pescod reported that the funding approval was most timely as WKCDA has now received the final Land Grant, which the Authority has signed and returned to the Government for final processing. The final entrustment agreements were also signed following the funding approval.

On construction projects, with the combination of the holiday period over the Chinese New Year when the construction industry typically closes down, and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, progress on WKCDA construction projects has experienced a substantial slow-down during February 2020, with only a partial return in this month. It was anticipated that by early April, the progress would finally return to the rate at which we were experiencing in January. However, with the latest situation showing a return of COVID-19 cases to Hong Kong, there may well be further negative impacts on the progress of the construction works.

Like all areas of activity in Hong Kong, the West Kowloon project has been hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. The problems encountered were in two main areas: workers on site and deliveries of materials. Most notably, deliveries of materials such as concrete to construction sites have been affected because some of the supply chains in Mainland China were temporarily closed in February. All WKCDA construction projects, including M+, the Lyric Theatre Complex (LTC) and the Hong Kong Palace Museum (HKPM) have been impacted. The Authority is now endeavouring to pull back any lost time and the situation is being monitored closely.

Nevertheless, works on LTC and the Integrated Basement continue and the entire B2 level base slab to the North and South side of the site will be completed in the coming weeks. The construction of the superstructure is also gathering pace.

The M+ project is in its final stages of construction. Mr Pescod reported that one of the consequences of the problems outlined above is that the planned date for the Occupation Permit (OP) has been delayed by several weeks. However, the Authority is still hopeful of gaining the OP by the end of the second quarter of 2020. The museum is set to open nine to twelve months later.

For the construction of HKPM, despite the impact experienced in February and March, the superstructure is now up to the third floor of the seven-storey building. The main contractor is working hard to accelerate areas of work to catch up with time.

The Authority continues its prudent arrangements and prevention efforts against the COVID-19 as recommended by the Government to safeguard the health of the public and staff members.

To ensure public safety and in line with the Government’s epidemic prevention efforts, the Authority decided to close some of the performing arts venues and has rescheduled or cancelled some of the performances and activities following the closure. The M+ Pavilion has also had to be temporarily closed again until 31 March 2020. The Authority is monitoring developments very closely and will announce arrangements for reopening the theatres at an appropriate time. Meanwhile, the Art Park remains open to the public.

One of WKCDA’s initiatives taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic is launching #LivehouseAtHome on Freespace’s Facebook page and Instagram. West Kowloon was one of the first arts institutions in Hong Kong to launch online livestreaming of performances in response to the COVID-19. The initiative offers a safe way for audience to enjoy live music at their convenience. During showtimes, Freespace brings an exciting line-up of local music acts streaming live from Lau Bak Livehouse. The audience enjoyed live jazz, alternative, classical or indie music performances online at home. Although the District has had to suspend the performances for the next few days, the broadcast is expected to resume shortly.

The District has continued its free performances of traditional Chinese music at the Xiqu Centre Atrium. Presented by a changing line-up of invited professional troupes, the programme features a range of styles – including classical and folk tunes and Chinese opera music – and showcases the versatility of traditional wind, stringed and percussion instruments. The performances were successfully staged on 14 and 15 March by Hong Kong Plucked String Chinese Orchestra and Windpipe Chinese Music Ensemble. Additional online content will be launched in the coming weeks to ensure that even though our venues are closed to help stop the spread of the COVID-19, the District is still bringing great performing arts to audiences through our social media pages.

Remarks

About the West Kowloon Cultural District
The West Kowloon Cultural District is one of the largest and most ambitious cultural projects in the world. Its vision is to create a vibrant new cultural quarter for Hong Kong on forty hectares of reclaimed land located alongside Victoria Harbour. With a varied mix of theatres, performance spaces, and museums, the West Kowloon Cultural District will produce and host world-class exhibitions, performances and cultural events, providing twenty-three hectares of public open space, including a two-kilometre waterfront promenade.