The Hong Kong government renewed the lease of the iconic Fringe Club, which has been dogged by uncertainty ever since its previous operators retired in 2022. The new lease expires on March 31, 2024. In the meantime, the government will invite non-profit-making operators to take over the premises, including its current operator, Hong Kong Festival Fringe Limited.
The Fringe Club been a fixture on the city’s live music and art landscape for nearly 40 years, and is located in the south block of the government-owned Old Dairy Farm Deport on Lower Albert Road in Central. The structure was built in 1892 and was the site of the milk distribution wing for the Dairy Farm Company’s Pok Fu Lam farm. It was accorded Grade I historic building status in 2009.
Unexplained reduced lease periods
Since 2022, The Fringe Club’s lease has only been renewed for one-year periods, as opposed to the usual five years. In addition, the lease for the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, which occupies the north block of the same building, was due to expire on January 1 this year, but was renewed for an additional three years.
While the government has given no explanation for the club’s reduced lease periods, authorities say they recognise “the need for providing space and facilities for small and medium-sized performing groups in Hong Kong”.
Pandemic woes and legal issues
The club has seen several changes and turbulent times over the past decade. It underwent extensive renovations between 2011 and 2019, during which several of its spaces were closed. In addition, it had to close its restaurants and bars in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic and could only host by-appointment exhibitions.
The venue has also been at the centre of a legal claim initiated by its founder, Benny Chia Chun-heng, and former administrator, Catherine Lau Kam-ling, against the board of directors. Chia and Lau claim they they were not paid salaries for 14- and eight-year periods respectively until August 2020, and that their combined dues total HK$12 million.
However, the board refuted Chia and Lau’s claim, stating that they agreed to defer their wages owing to the club’s financial difficulties. The duo responded by sending the board a letter last year, stating that they should be paid or face a winding-up petition. The former operators have not responded to enquiries about the matter, citing legal concerns.
Header image credits: Hong Kong Fringe Club via Facebook