BEIJING: China’s US$50 billion replica of Manhattan in the northern port city of Tianjin still lies mostly unfinished and empty nearly a decade after construction began.
Several reports have labelled the development in Yujiapu a ghost town. Others however argue that it could achieve its goals over time.
It is being billed as China’s version of the Big Apple. But 8 years after construction began, many of the buildings appear unfinished. Some construction sites have been abandoned, while the streets are deserted.
Lining the roads in stark contrast, however, are billboards of the bustling metropolis envisioned by developers. It is a vision that has yet to materialise.
A newly-built shopping mall lies just a short walk away from a brand new train station connecting Yujiapu to Beijing. But there are hardly any shoppers.
Restaurants in the mall are struggling to stay afloat. The Hexiangan hotpot restaurant started operations in January. On most days, it is raking in only about US$300 a day.
Its manager Mr Lin said: “We had high hopes for the future of this place when we selected this site, but we didn’t think it could be as bad as this.”
Yujiapu was scheduled for completion in 2019, offering 9.5 million square metres of office space over an area larger than Manhattan’s financial district. The aim is for it to become northern China’s Lujiazui, the financial district that sprang up on Shanghai’s east bank in the 1990s.
While it may resemble a ghost town now, some analysts like Michael Hart, Managing Director at Jones Lang LaSalle in Tianjin, remain optimistic.
“A lot of people look at Pudong, the CBD, Lujiazui, but what they don’t realise is that also started with a government plan where basically the first 5 or 6 buildings were almost all backed by SOEs, nobody wanted to be there, transportation wasn’t very good, buildings weren’t very connected, but eventually over time it helped,” said Hart.
The rail link that connects Yujiapu to Beijing could also help to breathe new life into the project. The district’s free trade zone status has helped to lure thousands of companies to register for business there. On the empty streets, residents also believe Yujiapu has a bright future.
Despite the optimism, it remains to be seen if Yujiapu can live up to its potential or turn into another Ordos in Inner Mongolia – a development which remains mostly vacant more than a decade after it was built and open for people to move in.