New Central Market disappoints conservationist

A conservationist said on Tuesday that the government could have done a better job at revitalising the historic Central Market to preserve more of its unique structures and make the complex more down-to-earth.

Katty Law, convenor of the Central and Western Concern Group, said she visited the Grade III historic building when it reopened on Monday after a HK$500 million makeover and found that it was a bit too different from its original state.

Law noted metal railings were installed at the iconic grand stairs to meet safety requirements, but said it had undermined the uniqueness of the structure.

“For special structures in historic buildings, like the grand stairs, the government should consider exemptions in law. Because it’s a bit of a pity to use some metal railings to obstruct such a special staircase,” she said on an RTHK programme.

Law also noted that there had been about 200 stalls inside the market, and only about a dozen were kept even though she had hoped to see more of them being preserved.

She said some of the old stalls that are preserved can also be used as pop-up stores for young people to start businesses, instead of being left vacant merely as an exhibition space.

The conservationist said the ground floor now looks like a high-end lounge where people sit and drink wine, and she hoped more shops selling cheaper local food could do business there.

Her views were echoed by a caller to the programme who gave her surname as Chiang.

The caller said she visited the four-storey building with her husband expecting to see fresh fish, meat and vegetable stalls.

“The ground floor looked like a bar where people were drinking wine, there were jewellery shops upstairs just like in a shopping mall. I can’t feel any sense of nostalgia… It’s called a wet market but there was nothing,” she said.

Another called, surnamed Cheung, said when he saw the exterior of the building, he remembered how he went to the market to buy snacks when he was a child, but he was disappointed when he saw what’s inside now.

“I don’t understand what they are preserving or revitalising… they took apart everything inside and only kept the shell,” he said.

The building was first opened to the public in 1939 and was closed down in 2003. Former chief executive Donald Tsang proposed the plan to revitalise it in 2009 and the task was carried out by the Urban Renewal Authority.