Fri, Dec 17, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Guggenheim nixes plan for museum in Taichung

SCAPEGOAT The foundation said the deal breaker was opposition from the city council, but Jason Hu tried to save face by blaming the central government instead

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

The project to build a a branch of the Guggenheim Museum in Taichung City appeared dead yesterday with the Guggenheim Foundation scheduled to hold a board meeting after press time last night to scrap the project.

The New York-based foundation informed the Taichung City Government on Tuesday that it would formally terminate its cooperative relationship with the city on the project at the board meeting yesterday.

Hoping to rescue the NT$6.4 billion project before its fate was sealed at the board meeting, Jason Hu (胡志強), Taichung's mayor, visited President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) on Wednesday in a last-ditch effort to solicit his help, but to no avail.

Seeking a scapegoat for the humiliating end to a venture in which he had invested much personal credibility, Hu accused the Presidential Office and the Executive Yuan of not supporting the project.

The real reason for the project's demise is that the Taichung City Council blocking the scheme which it called a future financial liability, and Hu was unable to persuade the council to change its mind.

Responding to Hu's criticism, James Huang (黃志芳), deputy secretary-general of the Presidential Office, said that Hu's accusation was simply misleading.

"We're sorry to learn of Mayor Hu's remark about the central government and we wish he wouldn't mislead the public to think that we oppose the project and should take responsibility for its termination," Huang said.

According to Huang, the Presidential Office received an e-mailed letter Tuesday, dated Dec. 8, from the foundation's chief executive officer Thomas Krens, telling it that the foundation had informed the Taichung City Government, also on Dec. 8, that it would end its relationship with the city due to the council's opposition to he project.

The city later confirmed that they received two e-mailed letters from the foundation. While one of them was addressed to the Presidential Office, the other was to the mayor. While the letters were dated Dec. 8, they were not received until Tuesday.

City authorities said that Krens did mention in one of the letters that he did not think it was possible to continue the project after Saturday's legislative election.

Cabinet Spokesman Chen Chi-mai (陳其邁) said that the problems with the project lay in the city council, not in the central government.

"While we've been supporting the project 100 percent from the very beginning, the city council has taken an opposing view," he said.

According to Chen Chi-mai, the crux of the problem lies in a proposed change of location and an initial agreement signed between the city government and the museum in September.

While the city had originally planned to build the museum in downtown Taichung, the city council proposed building it on the site of Shuinan Airport, which would be relocated.

The foundation frowned on the relocation proposal, saying that if the site was changed, planning for the project would have to start all over. Describing the cooperation agreement as "unfair" and "unfeasible," the city council said that the agreement would cause huge future debts for the city.

While the museum's branch in Spain cost about NT$3 billion (US$93 million) to build, Chen Chi-mai said that a Taichung branch was estimated to cost between NT$6.4 billion and NT$8 billion.

The design fee for the project would be 15 percent of the total construction fee, which is about 7 to 12 percent more than that of other branches of the museum around the world. The city also anticipated an annual loss of between NT$200 million and NT$400 million for operating the museum.

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