20 March 2015
Sky’s the Limit
Jonathan Zeman is CEO of the Lan Kwai Fong Group (LKF), the company founded in 1983 by his father, prominent Hong Kong business magnate Allan Zeman, who transformed the former market district of Lan Kwai Fong in Central into one of the hippest wining and dining districts in Asia. Mr Zeman discusses the group’s latest projects, including the LKF rollout into “happening” cities in the Chinese mainland.
Firstly, what’s new in Lan Kwai Fong, Hong Kong?
Our new California Tower, flagship building of the area, will open by the beginning of May. This HK$4 billion building – built on the site of two towers, the former California Tower and California Entertainment Building, is 27 storeys of F&B and lifestyle concepts.
With its open terraces, huge windows, high ceilings, sky gardens and large entertainment spaces, the new California Tower is the ideal location for great restaurants, chic bars and exciting new clubs. Ku Dé Ta, Asia’s top bar and lounge pioneer, will occupy the top two floors, while Pure Fitness has taken six floors for distinctive urban health sanctuary.
The Highways Department is also resurfacing the streets and adding landscaping, bringing the whole of Lan Kwai Fong to life.
How did LKF enter the Chinese mainland market?
We’ve had experience in the mainland in the early 2000s with Club 97, an entertainment complex in Shanghai. After about eight years as the top entertainment spot, we sold it. The Chengdu government also approached us for a project in the heart of downtown.
We visited, and found Chengdu to be a vibrant city where the people love to eat, drink and go out – a perfect cultural fit for Lan Kwai Fong. So we built a nightlife district. The government thought we could just pick up Lan Kwai Fong and plonk it down in Chengdu, but we had to tailor-make the trade mix. It was successful, and we had a lot of other inquiries from there.
What are your latest mainland ventures?
On Hainan Island, Haikou, we’re building an LKF together with Mission Hills Golf Resort. The biggest golf club operator in the world wanted an entertainment/F&B component in its resort, and we came in to do it. The complex will include three hotels (the Ritz-Carlton, Renaissance and Hard Rock Hotel), a lake in the middle, and a 150,000 square metre family entertainment component with cinemas and mid-market shopping. It should be ready to open by the end of this year.
After that we chose [the coastal Jiangsu city of] Wuxi, where we found that people have really good taste and a lot of spending power. LKF Wuxi is a 170,000 square-metre-project, which is half lifestyle retail, half F&B entertainment including cinemas. It should open by end-2016.
Each mainland project has strong Hong Kong elements, but is tailor-made for its location. To mainland Chinese, Hong Kong is an international city but still familiar to them – it bridges East and West.
Tell us about the Shanghai DreamCenter development. How is that different from the other projects?
That’s the big one – almost 500,000 square metres of mixed-use office towers, shopping and F&B within an old cement factory in Shanghai’s new CBD, about 15 minutes’ drive from The Bund. One old cement building is a really cool structure with an 80-metre-wide dome, which lends itself to conversion into a multi-purpose entertainment space. It’s a Rmb12.9 billion investment. Key partners of the DreamCenter include CMC Capital Partners, DreamWorks Animation and Chinese Development Bank.
We have a mass-transit rail connection to the site, which makes a winning combination. We break ground in April, and expect to finish construction by the end of 2017. Ambitious, yes; but in China, this is possible.
What are the group’s longer-term plans on the mainland?
Our grand plan is in sync with the development of mainland China. Over the next five to 10 years, there is a big push for further development of the domestic economy, whereby in all the different cities, especially the second tier, people will work in offices and need different lifestyle experiences.
As my father has always said, LKF Group is in the business of bringing people happiness, and people will need a place to hang out, presenting lots of opportunities for our brand. We could go on and on in the mainland – China is a big place. We are ready when they are ready.
Why was it important to perfect the LKF model in Hong Kong first, before exporting to the mainland?
Hong Kong is an important window to China, both inbound and outbound. The city is at the edge of all the trends. That’s why we decided to redevelop California Tower in Lan Kwai Fong Hong Kong – effectively performing open heart surgery on something that wasn’t even broken.
We want to keep ahead of the pack – ahead of the trends – with our flagship and showpiece, LKF Hong Kong. Hong Kong is our home, and it will show the way.