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Once grand, always grand

Macau Business has learned that the former Grand Hotel building has a new owner and been targeted for ren- ovation. Again. The building changed hands in early 2014, when it left the Fok (霍) family, its long-time owner, for the first time since 1937. Located at the western end of Ave- nida Almeida Ribeiro close […]

Macau Business has learned that the former Grand Hotel building has a new owner and been targeted for ren- ovation. Again.
The building changed hands in early 2014, when it left the Fok (霍) family, its long-time owner, for the first time since 1937.
Located at the western end of Ave- nida Almeida Ribeiro close to casino-hotel Ponte 16 (Sociedade de Jogos de Macau), the Grand first opened its doors in 1941. Once a luxurious hotel considered one of the finest examples of late art deco architecture in Macau it ceased operations in the 1990s.The new owner, International Weng Fu Investment Company Limited, acquired the building in two consecu- tive transactions, in January 2014 and July 2015.
According to the Property Register, the consideration for the acquisition was MOP266 million (US$33.2 million). The first transaction, in which Weng Fu purchased the near totality of the property, amounted to MOP257.5 mil- lion. The second transaction, complet- ing the acquisition, amounted to some MOP9 million.
Macau Business tried to locate the
company to learn more details of its plans for the property, but was still un- successful by the time this publication went to press. The company is not listed in the telephone directory and does not exist at the headquarters’ address regis- tered in its commercial filing.
Plans not yet public
Although the plans for renovating the Grand Hotel building have not yet been made public, Macau Business received written confirmation from the Depart- ment of Land, Public Works, and Trans- port (DSSOPT) that the new owner of
the property had filed an application to conduct consolidation works on the building. “In August of the current year (2016), [the Bureau] received a letter from the owner requesting only the execution of consolidation work on the building, a request that is cur- rently in a phase of evaluation by and consulting of opinions with the Macau Cultural Affairs Bureau,” it stated in an e-mail.
The Macau Cultural Affairs Bureau (IC) confirmed that it had received the request from DSSOPT in November 2016 “for consultation and opinions on theconsolidation project” of the building. In reply to enquiries about the date IC planned to deliver its opinion and rec- ommendations about the building to DSSOPT, spokesperson Angel Ma said the Bureau had yet to analyse the infor- mation.
When asked if the Bureau was aware that Weng Fu did not exist at its reg- istered address, DSSOPT spokesper- son Gloria Lao Cheng Han replied in a written response to this publication in December 2016: “Under normal
circumstances, when a company ap- plies for the approval of construction plans for a building, the extension of a project, or a maintenance project, a certificate issued by the Property Reg- istry Office is required [from the com- pany] to prove the rights to the building and lot.”
Speaking to Macau Business on the phone, Ms. Chan Vai Man, a civil serv- ant from the same Bureau, explained that it was not within the remit of DS- SOPT to run background checks on companies seeking approval for con- struction or renovation projects.
Once a symbol of Macau, the Grand Hotel is today just a skeleton in the heart of the city. But a new owner has paid more than 260 million patacas to acquire and develop it. How come no one in the government knows where the mysterious International Weng Fu In- vestment Company is?
The instruction from DSSOPT to seek advice from IC stems from the fact that adjudication or approval of new construction or any works or inter- ventions – except for those dealing with the interior of buildings – in ‘pro- tected’ or ‘temporarily protected’ areas must be run past IC before intervention is permitted.
Because the Grand Hotel is situ- ated in a protected area according to the Cultural Heritage Preservation Law (Article 115, Section 2 of Article 117) it “is assessed as one of the architectur- al complexes and sites in that area,” IC explained. Since the new heritage law – approved in late 2013 – took effect on 1 March 2014, IC’s recommendations are compulsory and binding in those cases, as defined by Article 31 of the same text (‘Conditioning in protection zones’).
According to Carla Figueiredo, an architect with IC’s Heritage Depart- ment, “consolidation works,” as re- quested by Weng Fu in its application to DSSOPT, refer both to improving the resilience of the building by reinforc- ing the existing structure and proceed- ing to architectural restoration. “It first entails structural consolidation, which is the work of strengthening and stabiliza- tion of an edifice, conducted by an en- gineer, followed by a phase of architec- tural restoration, of windows and arcades,the base of columns, and balustrades, for instance, conducted by architects and restorers,” she explained.
Re-renovating Grand Hotel
“That part of San Ma Lou is not a popu- lar area. [Real estate] prices there are much lower than prices in Senado, near BNU,” said local real estate agent Pedro Ip. “Prices did not change much in that area of the Inner Harbour after the opening of Ponte 16.” According to Ip, it is clear that property commands higher prices at the eastern end of Avenida Al- meida Ribeiro, where a new wave of de- velopment was triggered several years ago by the tourism boom, following the enactment of international heritage pro- tection recommendations.
To Wallace Hou In Kwah, Vice Director General of the Macau Cul- tural Heritage Reinventing Studies As- sociation, the Grand Hotel should be one of the priorities in Macau in terms of urban conservation, suitable to be used again as a hotel when renovated. “It could be a connection, from the ur- ban planning point of view, with Ponte 16, which is kind of isolated there.
If the Grand Hotel can be developed, it can definitely connect the whole of Se- nado Square, the whole of San Ma Lou, maybe bringing back tourists and busi- ness to the Inner Harbour area,” he told Macau Business.
Nearly ten years ago, when the building was still owned by the Fok family, Carlos Couto was the architect in charge of renovating both the interior and exterior of the building. Speaking to Macau Business, he explained that the plan was to renovate the building pre- serving its “original style” and restoring its “old atmosphere” whilst transform- ing it into a “boutique hotel.”
The initial renovation conducted back then entailed some minor strength- ening of the structure. The architect also proceeded with details for the in- terior renovation. “We’d worked on the design and selected the materials that would be employed: the floor was going to be made out of cork, from Portugal, and we’d also found a specialist in art deco in Hong Kong that would provide the furniture.”
Carla Figueiredo confirmed that IC’s Heritage Department had conveyed
recommendations and intervened in this previous project. Speaking specifically about the works conducted on Grand Hotel several years ago, she said that the technical team guided by IC initially withdrew everything that was “superflu- ous” to the building. “Only the pillars, façade, and frames – that is, the parts in concrete and the structure – remained”, she noted, adding that the Grand Hotel has specific features. “The fact that its façade is covered in Shanghai plaster con- fers a certain resistance to it.” Following the initial renovation work, she claims that the building and its foundations were left in relatively “good condition.”
Yet the project was cancelled. “There were misunderstandings be- tween family members,” said Couto, suggesting it was one of the possible reasons the project was shelved. The fact that the building had several own- ers – over 20 as recorded in the Prop- erty Register by the time Weng Fu ac- quired it – did not make it easy to take and execute decisions that would lead the project to completion.
What is to become of the building remains a mystery.