Sat, Sep 25, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Guggenheim deal is moving ahead, according to mayor

CNA , TAIPEI

Taichung Mayor Jason Hu (胡志強), who is visiting the US to try to salvage a stalled plan to build a branch of the Guggenheim Museum in Taichung, said yesterday that the Guggenheim Foundation has agreed to revive the "cooperation plan" between the two sides.

Hu conveyed the news through long-distance calls after learning the latest decision made at a board meeting of the New York-based Solomon Guggenheim Foundation earlier that day.

"Although some details were not discussed, the two parties agreed in principle to continue the project," Anna Wang (王瑩), executive secretary of the Taichung City Cultural Affairs Bureau. However, Wang said that the details of the project's execution had never been the primary obstacle, citing previous funding difficulties as the main problem. Wang pointed to yesterday's cooperation agreement as a breakthrough, although it was not immediately clear what obstacle had been overcome.

Some recent reports have said the Guggenheim Foundation wanted to abort the cooperation plan after long delays due to budget and technical problems.

However, a breakthrough came after the Council for Economic Planning and Development agreed on Aug. 31 to earmark NT$2 billion (US$59.17 million) in its budget for next year to help finance Taichung's Guggenheim project, one of the major campaign platforms of the popular mayor.

President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and Premier Yu Shyi-kun also reaffirmed their support for the project earlier this month.

Hu, who left Taiwan Sunday for New York, said that he has met with Guggenheim officials over the past two days to report about the project's latest developments in Taiwan, and that the foundation held a provisional meeting in which the board of directors discussed whether to continue with the project.

They concluded that the project is "very constructive" and decided they are willing to go forward with it, Hu said. Staff from both sides will continue to exchange views on the details of signing a preliminary agreement, he said.

"The confidence crisis that has been triggered by the 10-month delay is now over," Hu said, adding that the two sides will begin from where they left off at the end of last year.

However, Wang said yesterday that it was unclear when Hu would meet with Guggenheim representatives to work out the project's details, pointing to various challenges that await Hu at home.

Hu said that there are still many difficulties that have to be overcome, citing such factors as whether the initial agreement will clear the Taichung City Council and whether the Cabinet's budget will be passed by the Legislative Yuan.

Hu said he spoke with foundation officials about Taichung City Council's suggestion that the museum be built on the former site of Shuinan Airport, teh facilitites of which had been relocated to Taichung County's Chingchuankang.

But the foundation expressed worries that if the site is changed, planning for the project will have to start all over again.

Hu noted that Taichung City Council was only making a suggestion, and that it was not a formal resolution.

Upon leaving New York, Hu will visit San Francisco.

Additional reporting by Joy Su

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