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Chinese tycoon aims to restore London's Crystal Palace

Updated: 2013-10-04 04:07
By CECILY LIU in London (

Chinese tycoon aims to restore London's Crystal Palace

Zhongrong Group Chairman Ni Zhaoxing(R) and London Mayor Boris Johnson listen to a question at a press conference to unveil the plans to build a replica of the Victorian Crystal Palace. [Xie Songxin / China Daily]

Chinese real estate giant Zhongrong Group unveiled plans in London to regenerate Britain's famous Crystal Palace Park, home to the Victorian Crystal Palace that housed the Great Exhibition of 1851.

Backed by an investment of 500 million pounds, the project, announced Thursday, will replicate the 900,000 square foot glass halls of the palace that burned down in a 1936 fire, as well as the 180-acre Crystal Palace Park.

Zhongrong Chairman Ni Zhaoxing said he wants to turn the restored palace into a fine-arts exhibition and trading center, including a tree-lined boulevard in the park with improved park access, a new café and a visitors center.

"We want to restore Crystal Palace to its former glory, and we also want to provide a venue for art collectors from all over the world to showcase and trade their collections," Ni said.

A goal would be to provide leisure and hospitality facilities in and around the park to make art collectors' and tourists' stays more comfortable, he said. The Chinese billionaire and art collector said some pieces from his private art collection will be displayed in the new Crystal Palace.

Ni said his enthusiasm for rebuilding Crystal Palace Park was whetted when he would visit his two daughters who were studying at the University of Bath and City University of London, and also visit the park.

Zhongrong has hired the British engineering consultancy Arup to draft the regeneration plans. Arup Director Jerome Frost said his team hopes to submit a planning application to the local council within a year. If the plan is approved, construction would be expected to begin in the winter of 2015, Frost said.

The restoration project has received strong support from both London Mayor Boris Johnson and Stephen Carr, leader of the local council of Bromley, which looks after Crystal Palace Park. "It's incredibly exciting that Mr Ni has come forward with a brilliant, original, and simple vision, to recreate that palace in a 21st century version," Johnson said.

Johnson pledged to throw his "wholehearted support" behind the project and to consult the local community to ensure it delivers maximum benefits to them. "It is absolutely vital to engage with the (local) people, who I believe will benefit so much from this idea," Johnson said.

Although details are still to be announced, the project is expected to create more than 2,000 permanent and temporary jobs in addition to attracting wider local investment.

Crystal Palace originally was designed by the famous English architect Joseph Paxton. It was first erected in central London's Hyde Park to house the Great Exhibition of 1851, and relocated to southeast London afterward.

In 2008, a master plan for regenerating Crystal Palace Park was drawn up by the London Development Agency. However, that government body was closed last year, a casualty of the UK government's restructuring, and the master plan never turned into anything concrete.

A spokesperson for the Bromley Council said the council has also held discussions with various other parties on plans to regenerate Crystal Palace Park in recent years, but none have turned into an actual agreement.

Ni said his team has a good track record of property development in China.

Zongrong was founded in 1992. The group's notable projects include the Jasper Tower in Shanghai along with the neighboring Hengrui International Plaza and the International Business City complex.

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