What will ‘one district, one cinema’ strategy achieve?
Cinemas have played second fiddle to retailers in Hong Kong such as jewelry stores, but the question is whether a new town planning policy will change that
One industry that stands to benefit from the Hong Kong government’s support is surprising – cinema. Is it too good to be true? In a city that aspires to become an innovation and creative center, there is a lack of cinemas in core districts.
Why? Hong Kong’s push to become China’s Hollywood will always be hampered because of the expensive price on space and lack of land.
Interestingly there is light at the end of the tunnel because the government has now incorporated cinema into its town planning scheme.
According to the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau, both new areas in Kai Tak and Sha Tin will have a cinema in place and the use of land would not change for seven years.
That is because local box office sales had doubled in 2015, compared with that of 2005, the bureau said.
It is encouraging news for cinema operators, who have suffered from declining audience numbers, who can access millions of films online.
Cinema has been poisonous tenant for landlords in the past, especially during the tourism boom from 2003 to 2015 when retail attracted the dollars.
Jewelry and gold shops along with pharmacies catering for mainland tourists dominate in core shopping districts, with snack shops, herbal tea and, of course, cinemas playing second fiddle.
Causeway Bay is an affected area under this trend, so is Wan Chai, for example, which has no cinema.
But all of a sudden our government wants to rectify old mistakes and is keen to place a cinema in each of the 18 districts (except Tai Po).
One reason I can think of is the shopping malls. It is said that every mall in Hong Kong is so similar in terms of the tenant mix and increasingly so now because operators want to increase the entertainment and dining segment rather than retail.
This is another way to say Zara and H&M are less attractive to shoppers than Cafe de Coral or cinema operators such as United Artists and MCL because customers can shop online, but they can’t get the kind of dining and entertainment experience in malls from the web.
The town planning move is likely to please youngsters who want more places to hang out and vent their anger on the government.
More importantly, an increase in the number of cinemas opens the door of opportunity on giving space for creativity. A typical six-screen cinema complex takes up around 25,000 square feet, a luxurious economic use of land.
Moreover, there are talks that these complexes could show local short films before the main feature in another move to stimulate the ailing filmmaking industry in Hong Kong.
If the government provides more space for cinemas, it can be a different city.