This is a fast city, where skyscrapers go up in a blink and neighborhoods are transformed overnight. It is also a rich city. The budget set aside for new cultural development would be the envy of any arts administrator: 21.6 billion Hong Kong dollars, or about $2.8 billion, to build 15 performance venues, a museum, an exhibition center and a giant park on some of the world’s most valuable undeveloped waterfront property.
And yet the 40-hectare, or almost 100-acre, site reclaimed from the South China Sea in the 1990s for this purpose is still empty, except for a walkway and an orange sign advertising a “West Kowloon Cultural District” that does not exist. The years have seen international attention come and go. The heads of the Pompidou Center in Paris and the Guggenheim Museum in New York once visited with charm offensives, hoping to build branches here, but interest petered out. Endless plans were rejected, like one by the architect Norman Foster to build the world’s largest canopy.
Hong Kongers rolled their eyes at the delays, red tape, bloated budget and executive shuffling. But finally this year, the government seems to have jump-started the moribund project. During the Hong Kong International Art Fair last month, more than 100 visiting art-world luminaries were taken on a cruise to see that promised plot of land, guided by Lars Nittve, a founding director of the Tate Modern in London and now the new head of West Kowloon’s proposed contemporary art museum.