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Pink Floyd Stopped by, but Does the Rest of London Even Care?

Published: November 24, 2006

LONDON, Nov. 23 — When the Hong Kong property developer Victor Hwang bought the Battersea Power Station, an iconic, hulking shell on the south bank of the Thames, his daughter Vicky was a teenager.

Thirteen years later, not much has changed at the station, a London landmark, despite Mr. Hwang’s pledges to transform it into a glitzy entertainment, shopping and residential complex. The distinctive white chimneys are still crumbling, rainwater leaks down staircases and the wind whistles through the cavernous open central space.

But much of the responsibility for turning Mr. Hwang’s promises into reality now belongs to Vicky, 27.

Ms. Hwang, whose practical experience includes a master’s degree from Stanford University, a stint at a consulting firm and managing a boutique in one of her father’s hotels, is the new head of leasing for the estimated £1 billion ($1.9 billion) project. She took the spot in July after the longtime managers of the project, at least one of whom had been with Mr. Hwang’s development company, Parkview International, for more than a decade, were forced out.

Poised, confident and well spoken, Ms. Hwang is engagingly enthusiastic about the merits of the colossal site, an Art Deco building that was designed in 1930 by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, who also made the ubiquitous British red telephone booth. “We see the Power Station as comparable to the Eiffel Tower, or to the Empire State Building,” she said. That may be a bit ambitious — the Power Station is best known outside of London because of the band Pink Floyd, which featured it on the cover of the album “Animals.”

Ms. Hwang predicts the Power Station will become both a tourist destination and a regular stop for Londoners looking for a “cultural and creative hub.” Giving support to that idea, the Power Station recently sponsored a five-week exhibition of Chinese artists in conjunction with the Serpentine Gallery, which drew more than a thousand visitors a day.

Parkview’s plans for the more than 30 acres in and around the station include two hotels, a conference center, office building and apartment complexes, as well as an observation ride in one of the chimneys and possibly a spa.

Since Ms. Hwang has joined, the plan also includes multiacre “turbine gardens” on the roof of the building that she hopes will draw more than a million and a half visitors a year, and retail space that she plans to lease to new designers. In order to draw repeat visitors, Ms. Hwang said Parkview planned seasonal rooftop attractions, like an ice rink and a maze, tulip beds and a living plant wall. The space, she said, should generate a “feeling of fun.”

For some Londoners, though, the only feeling the Power Station project is generating right now is the feeling of déjà vu. Mr. Hwang’s original plans for the site were greeted with fanfare when they were introduced in 1993, and the Power Station is still considered one of London’s most beloved landmarks.

But the amount of time that has passed has even big fans of the project wondering whether it will ever pan out.

Some community groups contend that the real problem is that the Hwang family, which also owns a Hong Kong Parkview apartment development, has run out of money. The next step, they say, will be the sale of the project.

“We’re looking to the next stage, when another speculator gets ahold of it,” said Brian Barnes, the chairman of the Battersea Power Station Community Group. The Hwang family says “they’ve spent £200 million, but you can’t see where that’s been spent,” he said.

Parkview International, as a private group, does not disclose its finances. Mr. Hwang has long maintained that he will not develop the Power Station alone, and a spokesman, Ian Rumgay, said only that Parkview was speaking to several potential investors. No deals have been finalized, he said. The Hong Kong Parkview Group had losses of 22.6 million Hong Kong dollars ($2.9 million) in the year ended March 31, a bit larger than losses the year before.

The Hwang family would not be the first developer to stumble while trying to transform the former coal-fired plant from a skyline silhouette to a working space. A plan to turn it into an amusement park in the 1980’s was shelved after developer John Broome ran out of money.

Since Parkview bought the site for £10 million, the airport company BAA, Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Really Useful Group and Warner Brothers, among others, have signed on and then pulled out.

Red tape, the need to buy adjacent land, and the ejection of a longtime tenant, the London Electricity Board, have been the cause of the 13 years of delays, Mr. Hwang said in a November release. The project should be finished by the 2012 Olympics, he said.

Ms. Hwang said she had not experienced any backlash while trying to round up tenants. “People love this building; I haven’t had any negativity at all,” she said. “There is a huge desire for this to happen.”

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