The eagerly awaited southern branch of the National Palace Museum (NPM) will not open in 2012 as planned, breaking one of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) campaign-trail promises.
The Taipei Times has learned that the 70 hectare development in Chiayi County has been so fraught with design miscalculations, cost overruns and bureaucratic delays that its opening has been pushed back at least three years.
Government officials have confirmed that it will be at least another seven years before the facility, complete with two lakes and artistic, ecological and cultural areas will be opened.
The museum said the delay was due to a number of factors, including concerns about flooding in the area and problems with the project’s two major contractors.
“We did our best to stick to the [timetable],” National Palace Museum director Chou Kung-shin (周功鑫) said. “And if it weren’t for Typhoon Morakot or the design issues, the [branch] could have opened by 2012.”
However, local officials said Ma’s pledge was made in October last year, two months after the typhoon struck. It was made as he campaigned for a Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) candidate in the county ahead of last December’s local elections.
The decision to reschedule the opening came after county officials met with Council of Economic Planning and Development staff on Wednesday last week. It has not been publicly announced, pending approval from the Executive Yuan.
The postponement of the opening is the latest in a long line of holdups for the NT$7.93 billion (US$248.3 million) development, first announced by then-president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) in 2003. The original design, which called for a multi-functional museum responsible for research, display, education and storage, was supposed to be finished in 2008.
The delays have upset county officials, who have been counting on the museum branch to boost tourism. The county government has finished construction on four new roads and a pedestrian sidewalk around the building site.
“We are still waiting for Ma to cash in his election check. Otherwise we expect him to come down to Chiayi personally and explain to the people here why this museum cannot open on schedule,” Chiayi County Commissioner Helen Chang (張花冠) said.
It could be a long wait.
Both the NPM and the council have given conflicting information on who is responsible for holding a second round of tenders on the construction project, after the previous winners became embroiled in a contract dispute with the government.
NPM officials said the Executive Yuan delegated tender authority to the Ministry of the Interior’s Construction and Planning Agency last November, a claim agency officials reject.
The original designers, Antoine Predock Architects and Lord Cultural Resources, which is the world’s biggest cultural professional practice, lost their contract because of cost and construction overruns in 2008, Chou said.
However, a source at the Chiayi County Government knowledgeable about the dispute said the problems were due to continual demands by the NPM for changes to the original design.
“The National Palace Museum and the contractors did not part on happy terms,” the source said.
Antoine Predock Architects has designed several museums, including the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, which is scheduled to open in Winnipeg in 2012, the Tacoma Art Museum in Tacoma, Washington and the Danish National Archive.