Paul Tse's suggestion to turn the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal into a columbaria did not impress Hong Kong legislators. Photo: Ceeseven, Wikimedia Commons

Hong Kong legislators are not known for being creative, but Paul Tse Wai-chun has come up with an innovative use for Kai Tak Cruise Terminal, which is one of the deadest places in the city these days.

Tse’s solution for breathing some life into the terminal is to turn it into … a place for the deceased. He believes a private group should be allowed to build a columbarium (a storage area for funeral urns).

The former airport site is already as quiet as the grave, with cruises only using the facilities about 40% of the time. In fact, only 780,000  passengers have arrived in five years of operation at the terminal.

One reason for the poor patronage of the HK$8.2 billion (US$1.05 billion) site may be its adequate ancillary transport connections.

Enter the columbarium, a Chinese solution for where people can live after death. Demand for public columbaria is enormous because of the high cost of land in Hong Kong, where 90% of bodies are cremated. Families usually have to wait for four years for a public columbaria  with a size of 20cm x 20cm x 38cm; if they want to buy a private spot it will cost thousands, or even several million Hong Kong dollars.

Responding to the city’s aging population, the SAR government decided to allot 24 columbarium sites totaling 75 hectares in the next two decades. Medical facilities were allocated just five hectares.

The problem with columbaria, as with landfills, is that nobody wants one in their neighborhood. For obvious feng shui reasons, few people want to be living close to the ashes of their ancestors, but Tse believes tourists would be less fussy about sharing a cruise terminal with the dead.

There might even be a marketing niche here, as millions of people visit their ancestors during the Ching Ming Festival and Chung Yeung Festival. They could simply cruise down to the columbarium.

Taking it a step further, Tse envisaged designer columbaria homes. He suggested that the famous architect I M Pei, who will turn 101 next week, be invited to put his personal touch on the facility. There might even be a memorial for Jao Tsung-I, the well-liked Chinese Sinologist and historian who passed away at the age of 100 earlier this year.

Sadly, the government could not be convinced that Tse’s idea would do anything to increase traffic flows in the cruise terminal, and it was officially rejected. A dead issue, as far as legislators are concerned.

Asia Times Financial is now live. Linking accurate news, insightful analysis and local knowledge with the ATF China Bond 50 Index, the world's first benchmark cross sector Chinese Bond Indices. Read ATF now.