The historic Union Church in Mid-levels is to be rebuilt into a block of apartments, as church leaders stated in an annual report this month they aim to complete negotiations with property developer Henderson Land by the end of March.

The 68-year-old church building is set to be replaced by a 22-storey mainly-residential block. The five lowest floors will be home to the new church, while the other floors are planned as residential units.

Photo: HKFP/Elson Tong.

A majority of church members approved the redevelopment plan three years ago in March 2014. Local paper Apple Daily reported at the time that among 164-strong congregation, 23 per cent opposed the plan, and 77 per cent voted in favour of it.

In its 2016 annual report, the church said that it needed to sign a development agreement with Henderson within this month. “There are some challenging negotiations ahead and we pray for God’s wisdom and guidance to lead us in this process,” it added.

Neither Union Church or Henderson has responded to HKFP’s enquiries regarding the progress of the negotiations.

The congregation plans to move temporarily to Wanchai commercial building Sunlight Tower, before the end of the third quarter of 2017. The redevelopment of the church will take about five years.

Photo: HKFP/Elson Tong.

Henderson to ‘bear all costs’

Established in 1844 by the London Missionary Society, the original Union Church building was destroyed during the Second World War. The current church on Kennedy Road was built in 1949.

The Antiquities and Monuments Office has listed the structure as a Grade III historic building. This status means that “preservation in some form would be desirable,” but offers no legal protection against demolition.

The church obtained a High Court judgement last November, guaranteeing that even if the congregation vacated the site for redevelopment, its ownership would not revert to the now-defunct missionary society – as an ordinance dating from 1911 might have required.

The judgement revealed that Henderson would bear all costs for the redevelopment project. “In return, Henderson… will be entitled to the proceeds from the sale of 26 apartment units and 26 car parking spaces.”

Photo: HKFP/Elson Tong.

“The Church will retain a total of 19 apartments of which seven apartments will be reserved for church or governmental, institutional or community use.”

“[The Church] is in need of significant renovation or rebuilding due to aging, wear and tear,” read the judgement. ‌”Additionally, the Church also requires additional seating capacity which a new building would bring.”

‘Win-win situation’

The Town Planning Board gave its approval for the project back in 1997. Apple Daily called the partnership between the church and Henderson a “win-win situation.”

Nevertheless, the church’s redevelopment team – Building Union for the Future (BUFF) – incurred around HK$1.5 million in expenses last year, according to its annual report.

Photo: HKFP/Elson Tong.

The BUFF redevelopment steering committee includes real estate executives Rosanna Chan and David Runciman, and corporate lawyer Kay Ian Ng, among others. In the annual report, they called the redevelopment project a “journey of faith.”

“We pray that the waiting time for all of us will soon end, the buildings work will then begin and, with that, a Bright Union For the Future will emerge,” they added.

Elson Tong

Elson Tong is a graduate of international relations and former investigations consultant. He has also written for Stand News.