Dancers from a local Chinese troupe perform at the 20th annual Hong Kong spring reception in Atlanta. 

For Hong Kong, the arts is more than a nicety for the community: it’s a vital tool for economic development, the Chinese region’s top representative in the U.S. said during Feb. 25 visit to Atlanta

And instead of allowing the scene to develop naturally (outside the purview of tourism authorities) the government is investing $3 billion in a centralized effort to nurture it.

While the city of 7 million is already a cultural and fashion capital, the West Kowloon Cultural District will consolidate its offerings and give the arts scene a sense of place when launched in 2016. 

The effort is in part driven by the economic promise of 35 million annual visitors from the mainland each year (70 percent of 48 million international visitors), who come to shop and take in cultural performances, Donald Tong, the Hong Kong commissioner in Washington, told Global Atlanta.   

The 100-acre district will contain 15 performing arts venues, more than seven acres of walkable piazzas and a contemporary art museum that aims to foster a natural appreciation for the arts among local residents while creating a go-to destination for tourists, Mr. Tong said at the 20th annual Hong Kong spring reception in Atlanta. 

“We are building a high-speed railway,” Mr. Tong said of lines that will link his city with Beijing in eight hours and Shanghai in six hours when completed in 2015. “Not by coincidence, the terminus of the Hong Kong section of the high-speed railway is at the West Kowloon Cultural District.” 

Even well before the district’s 2016 commissioning the city is already attracting major art galleries and auction houses, lured by the same factors that have made it a flourishing market for wine auctions: no sales tax or export duties, Mr. Tong said. 

He added that universities like Savannah College of Art & Design, which already has a campus in Hong Kong focused on digital media, would play a key role in the new district. Other Georgia universitie are adding film and video-game production classes as the state’s media industry develops. 

Mr. Tong’s comments came during a dinner reception at the Carter Center, just after a performance by a local Chinese dance troupe. Earlier in the day, he was hosted by the Halle Institute for Global Learning at Emory University for a luncheon speech. 

The Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in New York, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, was represented by Anita Chan, a frequent visitor to Atlanta, who gave brief remarks focusing on the vibrant trade relations that have made Hong Kong the 10th largest destination for U.S. exports. 

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As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...