Taipei loses appetite for historic Jiancheng market

By Mo Yan-chih  /  STAFF REPORTER

Sun, Jul 02, 2006 - Page 1

Taipei's oldest food market, the Jiancheng Circle (建成圓環), enters the history books today after a massive renovation project by the Taipei City Government failed to revive the market's fortunes.

The city spent more than NT$200 million (US$6.17 million) to turn the market into a modern, two-story building housing 25 food booths and a performing arts center. But it finally conceded that the project was a failure.

The market failed to regain its competitiveness because of the building's design and problems with vendors, the Taipei City Markets Administration Office said yesterday in a written statement.

The Jiancheng Circle, located at the intersection of Chongqing N Rd and Nanjing W Rd, was once a city landmark. At its peak during the 1960s and 1970s, there were about 200 booths selling such popular snacks such as glutinous rice dumplings and oyster omelettes. But devastating fires in 1993 and 1999 contributed to the market's decline.

In 2001, Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) made the reconstruction of the circle one of the mainstays of his bid to revitalize the city's older districts.

Food vendors who moved in to the new building, however, complained that its modern design did not reflect the market's history and culture. They said a lack of promotion and assistance from the city government also hurt business.

"The renovated circle is like a model, which is not practical at all. The glass design doesn't give a traditional, cultural feeling, and it's like a labyrinth inside," Chen Chen-sheng (陳震盛), former president of the Jiancheng Circle vendor association, told the Taipei Times.

Tseng Shin-ren (曾信仁), owner of a braised pork rice shop who decided not to move back to the circle after its was remodeled, said he didn't like the design.

"I decided not to move in after seeing the blueprint. The new booths were very small and the building lacked character," he said.

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Taipei City Councilor Chen Yu-mei (陳玉梅) said she was sad the market was closing.

"But I will fight for the rights of the vendors and save these traditional flavors for next generations," said Chen, who is sponsoring an event tonight for residents to remember the market.

The Taipei City Markets Administration Office has given each vendor a relocation subsidy of about NT$800,000.

It plans to turn the market into a Taipei delicacies promotion center, which will open next month.