Typhoon reveals Soho to be half empty

So there I was at 10 this morning, sitting at home in my pajamas, sipping lapsang souchong, reading the newspapers online, and thinking how nice today would be with the Number 8 typhoon signal up – and thus offices closed – until, say 3pm, when it is sadly too late for anyone to go into work. Vicious Vicente. And then some idiot at the Observatory ruins everything and lowers the signal.

I had in fact ventured out earlier to inspect the neighbourhood for damage after last night’s tempest. The Plaza in Discovery Bay was looking like this…

…so I thought we might have a few overturned buses or collapsed advertising hoardings in Central. But there was nothing, apart from the usual bits and pieces you would expect to be strewn around in the first Number 10 signal since 1999, including 100-mile-an-hour winds at Ngong Ping, home of the famous Lantau Death Ride Cable Car. Not even a comatose inebriate swept uphill from Lan Kwai Fong by an exceptional gust.

One thing I did notice, with no human or vehicular traffic in sight, was how many premises in Soho are empty. The shops are presumably being hoarded by owners waiting for prices to rise or landlords refusing to take a penny less than their dream price. This double-fronted (connected at the back) place on Peel Street…

…has been empty since the no-doubt trendy and much-missed Boca Tapas Bar closed at least one, maybe two, years ago. That must be one or two million in rent down the drain.

Just down in Staunton Street, I found a whole block – number 20-26 – vacant, full of deserted apartments with the windows open…

The hoarding along the ground level says the place is under renovation by Sino Land.

This is the place Sino wanted to turn into a 24-storey office tower with five levels of restaurants and a pledge to ‘preserve the unique cultural and historical character of the area’. Local activists fought against the plan, and Sino then said it wanted to build a boutique hotel instead. (The sidewalks here are barely 2ft 6 across and the street is clogged with trucks half the time.)

I am the only remaining resident who can remember the area’s original ‘cultural and historical character’, which was wiped out of existence some 15-20 years ago when the newly built Mid-Levels Escalator pulled in all the glitzy fake restaurants and other tat. Far from being unique, it was pretty much the same as you still find today in remaining low-rise, urban-area blue-collar neighbourhoods, like bits of Shamshuipo. All my neighbours from that time were ethnically cleansed via a clampdown on illegal structures and an influx of yuppies.

Now, thwarted by the newcomers’ aesthetic values and town planners, it seems Sino must simply renovate their property, apparently bought some 10 years ago for HK$160 million. They could, if they knock apartments together, make some serious luxury flats – say, two 1,200 sq ft units per floor, which would probably fetch HK$15-20 million (who knows?) each. No swimming pool, so buyers would actually get the space. And then there’s the ground floor – perfect for a couple of phony upscale themed dining concepts. All in keeping with the unique cultural and historic character.

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20 Responses to Typhoon reveals Soho to be half empty

  1. Tiu Fu Fong says:

    Hong Kong landlords present a valuable opportunity to calculate the monetary value of the Cantonese fear of regret – how much rent is a landlord willing to forego for 2 years in the fear that, if he accepts a rent offer, the place next door may rent out at a higher price?

  2. Caroni Ma says:

    15-20 M a piece for a rathole like that ?

    Mmmm, seems like somebody who owns a little property in that part of town is trying to talk up prices……

  3. Sir Crispin says:

    I have never understood the Chinese greed that completely blinds them to the concept of 75% of something is better than 100% of nothing.

  4. maugrim says:

    Disco Bay looks amazingly like Coventry. Makes those using rubbish bins as places to commune around whilst having a beer feel at home.

  5. Gazza says:

    Everyone around you moving out and closing down. What could it mean?

  6. Stephen says:

    I am the only remaining resident who can remember the area’s original ‘cultural and historical character’

    No.

    From memory Peel, Staunton, Elgin Streets etc were utter dumps. The more gentfified SOHO, whilst having had its share of culinary shockers and Developers (in collusion with Government) tendancy to max out tiny plot, is an improvement.

    How all these twee restaurants and bars will survive now that the bankers are being fired is another matter …

  7. Old Timer says:

    Casa Lisboa has a lot to answer for.

  8. No Future For You says:

    “I have never understood the Chinese greed that completely blinds them to the concept of 75% of something is better than 100% of nothing”

    Well as Mr Fong points out, its not so much greed, rather the fear of humiliation, as you discover the other slum lords on the street are renting their hovels out for just that much more than you, no right-thinking Honkie would ever let that happen to them – hence all the unused shop space.

  9. No soup for you !! says:

    If I owned a place in that part of town I would eagerly try to find some sucker to take it off my hands at the prevailing price, before it’s to late.

  10. Tiu Fu Fong says:

    I suspect it’s an aspect of the same psychology that drives my wife to go hunting around shops AFTER she’s bought something to check comparable prices, so she can have peace of mind that she hasn’t been ripped off.

    She knows she’d be better off just being happy that she’s bought something she wants at a price that she way happy to pay, but the fear of regret won’t let her have that happiness. At her back she always hears Regret’s winged chariot drawing near.

  11. Peter says:

    “I have never understood the Chinese greed that completely blinds them to the concept of 75% of something is better than 100% of nothing.”

    This isn’t just “Chinese greed” you racist prat. It’s called “human nature” and there’s people like tht in all ethnic group.

    Also your name is extremely pretentious and I think you’re a giant douchebag.

  12. Real Tax Payer says:

    In defence of Sir Crispin ( although I’m certain he can well defend himself on his own) I do happen to agree with his point that:

    “I have never understood the Chinese greed that completely blinds them to the concept of 75% of something is better than 100% of nothing.”

    That’s even though I have been married to a Chinese lady for over 30 years and have the very highest respect for China and its people.

    Nonetheless, a small ultra- greedy minority in HK do behave in this irrational manner.

    And given the way some tycoons behave, including LKS as he tries to squeeze the very last drop of blood from us, and the Kwoks when they bribe top civil servants just to get an extra few % of the property pie, it seems not only Soho landlords are typical culprits .

    (@ Peter : I felt your personal comments about Sir C ‘s name were somewhat out of order : But then again ” Sticks and stones may break my bones but names they cannot hurt me “)

  13. Vile says:

    I am not qualified to comment on this practice in other places, but there is a total disconnect between profitability and gross income at all levels from one-shoebox landlords to the biggest movers and shakers. Hong Kong developers have been known to sit on a plot of land for decades in the hope of squeezing a few more square feet of GFA out of the government. What usually happens, of course, is that increasing public sensitivity actually makes it harder for them to achieve even what they could have gotten in the first place, not to mention the loss of investable profits they could have settled for years ago.

    I have not observed this to be a minority, in fact I cannot off-hand recall a case where this attitude isn’t the norm.

  14. Sir Crispin says:

    Peter, I guess irony is over your head. Perhaps you should stick to reading The Standard.

  15. Tiu Fu Fong says:

    The petty mind leaps quickly to accuse racism. “Chinese” could be a cultural or national reference as much it could be racial, if not more so the former two as Beijing works hard to insist inhabitants of non Han regions are nonetheless Chinese. I took sir Crispin to be talking about the cultural tendency, which Singaporean Chinese happily apply to their own culture eg Kiasu.

    On the other hand, Singaporean Chinese are racist. All of them.

  16. Sir Crispin says:

    “White people will never be as racist as Asian people, not on your life.” – Russell Peters.

  17. delboy says:

    OH MY GOD! Did nobody read the second paragraph? Our blogger is from Discovery Bay.

    BLOODY FOREIGNERS interfering in Hong Kong affairs again! :•>

  18. Vile says:

    He said “the neighbourhood”. At 20 minutes’ commuting time, Discovery Bay, by anyone’s standard, is in “the neighbourhood” of Hong Kong Island.

  19. Chimp says:

    Why would you rent the property out at less than the maximum you can possibly wring out of the fucker? The rent is chickenfeed, anyway, except in so far as it is multiplied by factor P to give the sale price for the property. Lower rent, lower nominal value.

    If that’s “Chinese” then sign me up… I would call it “strategic, depending”.

  20. Tiu Fu Fong says:

    Assuming rental yield of 5% on your acquisition cost, you’d forgo 10% gain (put tax) by strategically leaving you’re property untenanted for 2 years. More if you got a revenue share like some Soho landlords now ask for.

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