Best of the WestOld Kennedy Town sits at the end of the tramline but will soon be the name of a buzzy MTR stop and a rising star in Island West

I n this city, the Mass Transit Railway essentially equates with convenience, and property prices go up whenever the MTR reaches. Hence it’s not hard to predict a new wave of gentrification and a revamp in the old town’s landscape — in as little as three years’ time.

Located at the western tip of Hong Kong Island, Kennedy Town, better known as “Sai Wan” to your grannies, was named after Sir Arthur Kennedy, the seventh governor of Hong Kong in the 1870s. Few would remember the quiet town, built partly on reclaimed land, was once home to the lower income groups, a dried seafood haven and a whole bunch of noxious facilities including brothels, incinerators, cement plants, abattoirs and a mortuary in the late nineteenth century.

And thanks to its distance from the heart of Central, the town did not develop as vigorously as its neighbours for decades. It was only seen as one of those more remote suburbs that absorbed the city’s surplus population from areas like nearby Sai Ying Pun, and primarily among Chinese residents. It was not until the 1990s that newly developed upmarket housing built along the waterfront — including the Merton and Manhattan Heights — attracted a growing number of expats to the town after the incinerator and abattoir eventually closed down in 2007.

But gone are the old days. With the arrival of the MTR West Island Line in 2014, a trip to Causeway Bay will take 12 minutes, while “downtown” Central will be just eight minutes away — about 15 to 25 minutes less than that of road transport. With new stops at Sai Ying Pun, the University and Kennedy Town, the $8.9 billion line is expected to serve some 140,000 residents and 60,000 daily commuters who have for years relied on buses and minibuses crawling on congested streets from Pok Fu Lam through Central.

On top of a brand new MTR line, there’s no real surprise the western tip of the island has a booming property market: thanks to its proximity to the heart of Central and some of the best schools on the island. “The ‘MTR effect’ on the property market is yet to come,” explains Frank Wan Wai-chung, senior property consultant with Hong Kong Property, who is optimistic overall property prices in the district will potentially spike. “It’s been seen that more buyers rent out their new flats as investments. One can expect at least another 10 percent increase in property prices by that time.”

Data from Midland Realty showed the average price of housing estates in Western district in June was up 26 percent from a year earlier. In Kennedy Town’s luxury housing market, the coastally located Merton was demanding prices hovering around $9,906 per square foot in May, up 29 percent from last year. The Belcher, easily the most popular property with expatriate families, has a price tag of $13,966 per square foot — up 30 percent.

It is quite likely luxury housing developments will soon be the rule. “Redevelopment has been taking place secretly,” Wan says. “Richfield Reality has been actively purchasing old tenement buildings from owners.” Two upmarket residential development projects on Belcher Street and Rockhill Street will soon be in full swing, fuelled by the government’s town planning policy. Recently some professionals have speculated a change in land use from “institutional” to “undetermined” by the Town Planning Board at scenic waterfront areas, including a playground, a bus terminus at Sai Ning Street and the former Kennedy Town incinerator, will give way to upmarket developments in the future.

What’s more with the coming of the MTR, one can also expect an upgrade in infrastructure. Footbridges and minibus terminals in Kennedy Town are all under construction. The good news is a sweaty walk uphill under the city’s scorching sun will become history with the construction of another pedestrian escalator between Centre Street and the Third Street. The 85 metre-long covered escalator is expected to host some 14,000 two-way journeys every day beginning in mid-2012.

With all these aggressive developments going on, inevitably the one-time end-of-the-line at the tip island will no longer be the sleepy, quiet town it once was. As Wan adds, “It’ll soon be a second Central in town — though one with luxurious residential developments.”