It’s expensive to live — and die — in Hong Kong. It’s not just the prices of homes and car park spaces that have become unaffordable to many people; even the price of a burial plot is now beyond their reach because of the tight land supply.
But this is where Kerry Logistics (00636.HK) has seen an opportunity. The group has applied with the Town Planning Board to redevelop its 15-storey warehouse in Chai Wan into a columbarium. The proposed Island Memorial Center seeks to provide 120,000 columbarium niches.
As to be expected, the application has drawn opposition from local district councilors and residents in the area.
Most of the feedbacks uploaded on the regulator’s website are against Kerry’s proposal. Their major concerns include potential traffic congestion and air pollution.
It’s normal that people find it uncomfortable to be living near a building housing the remains of the deceased. But to ease their anxiety, Kerry Logistics is trying to disabuse their minds of their traditional concept of a columbarium.
First of all, the columbarium will look like an ordinary commercial building. And instead of the place being filled with the usual black-and-white pictures of the departed, the facility will make use of electronic screens to show the images which visitors can turn on and off.
William Ma Wing-kai, executive director of Kerry Logistics, said cameras will be installed in front of the columbarium niches, allowing people to pay homage to their deceased loved ones through the use of a smartphone.
The group will also arrange for ferries to transport visitors to and from the columbarium during the tomb-sweeping peak season to ease the traffic pressure.
Hong Kong lags behind some of its Asian neighbors like Malaysia and Taiwan in columbarium services, Ma notes.
Many of the columbaria in these places are located downtown, furnished with electronic equipment, and of modern design.
It’s hard to tell whether it is a hotel or a place where cremation urns are stored from its looks, says Ma.
Currently, people usually have to wait several years for a public columbarium niche. Meanwhile, the cost of a private columbarium niche ranges from HK$10,000 (US$1,290) to HK$200,000, depending on the location and the environment.
If the niches in the proposed columbarium are set at around HK$100,000 each, which is quite conservative, the entire project may bring in HK$12 billion for the group.
The Town Planning Board will decide on the application this May. The company hopes the first phase of the project can be completed by 2019.
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