Much of the controversy concerning the Observation Wheel at the Central harbourfront is focused on the deadlock between the old and new tenants of the site, which has led to a shutdown of the operation of the tourist attraction.
But a more fundamental question should be asked: Do we really need a Hong Kong Eye?
It goes without saying that the attraction has failed to attract a lot of tourists and locals. Since it opened in late 2014, the giant Ferris wheel has been bogged down by poor attendance.
The HK$100 ticket price was a bit too high for many people who wanted to try it out, and there weren’t any significant activities held at the site except the AIA Winter Carnival, where many visitors complained about how fast their HK$1,000 was spent on some cheap thrills.
It is therefore understandable why the government changed the criteria of the tender to give advantage to The Entertainment Corp. Ltd., whose management also ran AIA Winter Carnival, rather than to the old operator Swiss AEX, which is more of an engineering concern than an entertainment firm.
But the simple truth is this: Hong Kong does not need a Hong Kong Eye.
Our city is home to thousands of skyscrapers. I doubt if most buildings along Connaught Road would not have a better view of Victoria Harbour, given that the Hong Kong Observation Wheel is only about 60 meters tall, or about the height of a 20-storey building.
Except for a few restaurants at the 108-storey International Commerce Centre in West Kowloon, the city’s tallest building, I think many pubs and food joints can offer similar stunning views of the harbour for less than HK$100 per head – and for more than 10 minutes – not to mention the fact that one can also get a great view by just going up to the Peak.
As such, Hong Kong Eye doesn’t have an edge like the London Eye by the River Thames, along which there are not too many tall buildings.
Same case for Singapore, where the Singapore Flyer is having a hard time competing with the SkyPark at Marina Bay Sands.
Six years after it opened, the 165-meter-tall Singapore Eye, billed as the world’s second-tallest observation wheel after the one in Las Vegas, went into receivership in 2013 and it took a year before a new investor came to the rescue.
Back in Hong Kong, the new operator of the observation wheel plans to lure more visitors by offering ticket prices as low as HK$20, but we wonder if at that price it could ever be a profitable enterprise.
I heard that the AEX once offered to lease the venue for a one-day charge of HK$3 million, an unrealistic figure that shows how eager it had wanted to recoup its total investment of around HK$100 million.
A rumor has circulated in the local expatriate community that a certain property developer would like to lease the deck for a night’s stay.
That may sound crazy, but what seems crazier is that the government, while desperately looking for land amid the housing shortage, can’t seem to maximize the value of a prime site.
And if it wants to make people happy, a Hong Kong Eye, and a small one at that, just won’t serve the purpose.
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