Wanchai In The SpotlightAh, Wanchai. A lot has changed for the former fishing village over the years. One of Hong Kong’s most thinly populated areas, technically, Wanchai District includes Causeway Bay and Happy Valley, but in the popular lexicon, Wanchai is the late night expat ghetto without the pretensions of Lan Kwai Fong. It’s population of roughly 160,000 swells to over 750,000 on an average workday making it one of the busiest. If you get stuck there for whatever reason, you can always duck into the M&S Food Hall or any number of pubs while you wait for traffic to clear.

Image Is Everything
Wanchai may not be Hong Kong’s tourism or luxury leader district, but beyond a doubt it’s the most recognisable and vividly etched in the public mind. It is the last centrally located bastion of old Hong Kong (despite Wedding Card Street’s demolition) and one of the most active for the Urban Renewal Authority. It’s a favourite of Hollywood: beyond The World of Suzie Wong and The Man with the Golden Gun, it’s featured in Push (starring Avenger Chris Evans), hilariously so in an episode of FlashForward (it was a Los Angeles backlot) and possibly Pacific Rim. It’s the city’s most ethnically diverse neighbourhood as well as home to its Red Light district. Wanchai after dark and/or during Fleet Week has a sleazy charm that it wears proudly, one that you bask in or steer well clear of.

But Wanchai is a bit of a split personality. The neon-laced raunch is the most famous, but Wanchai residents are among the city’s most educated, affluent and it is the only district with no public housing estates. It’s also where one of the world’s busiest convention centres is located, as well as a clutch of prime office addresses (Convention Plaza, Hopewell Centre, Three Pacific Place), the shiny new government offices, crucial arts venues (the HKAC and HKAPA) and more than a few four- and five-star branded and boutique hotels (Grand Hyatt, Renaissance Harbour View, Indigo).

Unlike some districts of the SAR, Wanchai feels like it has struck a perfect balance between commercial and residential life. It’s not a prime district for either — though notable office towers being added to the district soon include (according to the Lands Department) Phoenix Property Advisors’ Central Mansion and Asian House, developed by Chinachem — nor is it considered core for retailers (but it is showing appeal as a popular non-core option), but there’s just enough of everything to make it a treasure trove of serviced apartments: The V, Butterfly, GardenEast, Chi, D’Home, Fraser Suites and Kaza, are just a handful of the operators with properties in the district.

Commercial Lead
Perhaps not surprisingly, Wanchai is thin on schools and leisure facilities. Southorn Playground and Morrison Hill swimming pool are nearly it. The EDB lists dozens of public schools in the official Wanchai, but many of those are in Causeway Bay, Happy Valley, Stubbs Road and schools designated as “other” (education centres, specialty schools), indicating the area leans towards business, retailing and leisure — as in drinking and dining; Wanchai is densely packed with bars and restaurants. It’s clearly commercialising.

According to data from JLL, office submarkets recorded positive net take-up, leading the overall occupier market in February — with the exception of Wanchai/Causeway Bay. However, the area posted one of the lowest vacancy rates in the city for the same period, 3 percent, behind only TST and Hong Kong East.

But it’s not all business, and Wanchai’s residential cache is rising. “Ten years ago, a lot of expats would have started in Mid-Levels. But the way budgets are structured nowadays people need to move off Mid-Levels a bit and Wanchai is a good [alternative],” theorises Denis Ma, head of research for JLL. “You get a lot more of the expat community coming down [to Wanchai], a lot of office workers willing to rent in the area. It makes a good investment case.”

On the south side of Hennessy heading towards Wanchai North (near the HKCEC) residential is limited, leaving the Queen’s Road side as the primary location for homes. “In recent years we’ve seen a little residential supply come through. Down around Hopewell and Queen’s Road East, at 1 Wanchai, they’re building The Avenue at the moment,” says Ma. And it’s absolutely a respectable location for individual investment. “Institutional maybe not as much, mostly because a lot don’t want to invest in small strata title units. But ever since Swire built Three Pacific Place, that’s made the office market a bit bigger. Nearby there’s the Asian House redevelopment, Swire have another one at 28 Hennessy Road. It’s added to the quality of office market,” Ma finishes.

Finally, with a major land reclamation programme up and running and aggressive redevelopment and regeneration of one of the city’s oldest neighbourhood, there’s no telling how values are going to swing in the near future. With the exception of serviced apartments, many of the residential buildings are reaching their past due point. Ma points to the bypass as possibly contributing to better traffic flow, which could improve Wanchai’s appeal, though it’s unlikely the Queen’s Road area is going to feel the effect. But more importantly: “Is it going to change Lockhart Road? No,” adds Ma. Thank goodness.