Thu, Dec 09, 2004 - Page 2 News List

Cabinet evasive about Guggenheim branch

FUNDING Saying that building a branch of the museum would be a financial liability for Taichung, the city council proposed that the Executive Yuan take over the project

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

The odds of building a branch of the Guggenheim Museum in Taichung seem to be getting slimmer as the Executive Yuan yesterday remained evasive about whether it would take over the construction project, as the city council has proposed.

"As Taichung Mayor Jason Hu (胡志強) has said that he will not give up easily, we hope he will continue to negotiate with the pan-blue dominated city council and Guggenheim Foundation," Cabinet Spokesman Chen Chi-mai (陳其邁) told a press conference after the weekly Cabinet meeting.

The Taichung City Council on Tuesday rejected the budget request for the planned museum project and passed a resolution recommending that the Executive Yuan take over the project. The council said the project would be a financial liability for the city.

Hu immediately informed the foundation of the council's decision.

The foundation is scheduled to hold a board meeting to discuss the matter on Dec. 16. Hu is also planning to visit President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) to ask for his help.

The president said yesterday that if Hu supports a pan-green victory in the legislative elections, he will meet with him sometime next week to help resolve the deadlock, unless the green camp fails to achieve a legislative majority.

Chen made the remark last night at a rally held in Taichung.

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.

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

The foundation frowned on the relocation proposal, saying that if the site is changed, planning for the project would have to start all over.

Describing the cooperation agreement signed in September as "unfair" and "unfeasible," the city council said that the agreement would cause huge debts in the future.

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

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

Chen Chi-mai said that the government has been supporting the project 100 percent and will continue to do so in the future.

"However, it's hard to imagine how the project will eventually be realized if problems with operational expenses, construction costs and other things are not solved," he said.

The development of a Taichung branch of the museum has been in the works since 2002, when Hu was running for mayor and made it one of his major campaign platforms.

Premier Yu Shyi-kun agreed on Aug. 18 last year to grant Taichung City NT$3.2 billion -- half the cost -- toward the establishment of the museum.

On Sept. 20 last year, Yu promised to fund 80 percent of the project -- which was estimated to cost NT$6.4 billion to build -- up to a limit of NT$5 billion, under the condition that the city would be responsible for the planning, operation and management of the facility.

The Council for Economic Planning and Development agreed in January this year to lend the city NT$280 million as a deposit to sign the contract and another NT$170 million in October.

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