Taipei City Councilor Hsu Shu-hua (許淑華) yesterday criticized the city government’s plan to revitalize an underground mall in the Ximending (西門町) area, saying it has been plagued by slow progress and high costs.
After spending about NT$50 million (US$1.65 million at the corrent exchange rate) in three years to renovate the mall’s facilities, the city has “absolutely nothing” to show for its efforts, Hsu said at a council meeting attended by Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲).
The mall was built in 2002, when former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was Taipei mayor.
The mall and its 18 shopfronts cost the city about NT$1.7 billion, but no businesses are willing to rent space there, Hsu said.
Instead, the virtually deserted mall is mostly used by Taipei Rapid Transit Corp (TRTC) for office space, with two sites housing an automated library.
It is widely believed that Ko intended to transform the underperforming underground mall into an anime and manga-themed commercial center, a project he hinted at during his mayoral campaign.
In February, officials said that the city government was considering turning the mall into a “cultural and creative” center.
Taipei officials said at the time that Ko was exploring the issue at policy planning sessions and that the Taipei Office of Commerce was optimistic that manga, anime or other related industries would move into the mall.
However, Hsu said yesterday city hall had failed to address the mall’s many obvious layout flaws and problems with the facilities that had plagued it for 15 years.
The mall has no elevators, escalators or unloading areas, and its access points are all on the east side of Zhonghua Road, she said.
This arrangement makes the mall dependent on Ximen MRT Station for foot traffic and isolates it from other underground malls along the MRT system, as well as businesses in Ximending, Hsu said.
Those flaws should have been well-known to city officials because they contributed to the collapse of three tenders by past administrations, she said.
Taipei Department of Finance Commissioner Chen Chih-ming (陳志銘) said disaster prevention needs had complicated the issue of elevator layout.
Ko said that the city would try to modify disaster prevention plans to the extend it is authorized.
Ko inspected the site six months ago and told his plans to subordinates, but they did not report the difficulties they encountered due to failures of communication, he said, adding that he ordered TRTC president Yen Pang-chieh (顏邦傑) and Chen to brief him on the mall every two months.
“This issue will be tracked by the mayor’s office and me personally,” Ko said.
Department of Finance official Chang Meng-chun (張孟純) said that the department was working with TRTC to fix transportation problems.
What to do with the mall after elevators and escalators are installed are problems for a later time, Chang said.
Feasibility studies last year revealed additional hurdles with regard to costs, profitability and legal issues with the bidding process, Chang said.
Last year, the finance department asked the Taipei Department of Cultural Affairs to evaluate using the Ximen mall as a cultural industry venue, but the feasibility study concluded that construction and operating costs were too prohibitive.
A separate study was also conducted to explore the feasibility of using the mall for youth start-ups and the manga and anime industry, Chang said.
The Taipei Department of Economic Development, which ran the study, concluded that the city might get into legal trouble if it restricts bidding to specific types of businesses, he said.
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