SCMP Tuesday, September 12, 2000

Anger over ban on Soho street signs


Street signs bearing the name "Soho" have been barred from the trendy Central area because residents fear people will think it is a red light district.
Some residents fear the name, used to describe a section of Central south of Hollywood Road for the past three years, will make visitors associate it with the seedy past of London's Soho.
There are about 50 bars and restaurants and 150 shops in the area. A business group called the Soho Association this year proposed putting up Soho street signs to help the increasing number of visitors find it.
Soho Association chairman Robert Tai said the Hong Kong Tourist Association, which has been promoting the Soho area on its Web site, backed its plan for the street signs and put together a proposed design.
But the plan was blocked by Central and Western District Council, which said it would replace the proposed Soho signs with ones reading "Staunton Street Themed Dining Area", "Elgin Street Themed Dining Area" and "Mid-Levels Themed Dining Area".
Mr Tai said: "The name Soho gives a big boost to business. The name is already established, whether people like it or not. It shows how indecisive the Government can be because the Government has advertised the place as Soho and then decided to change its mind.
"This change will only cause more confusion to tourists. London's Soho has not been a red light district for a long time. And what difference does a name make? A lot of people live comfortably in Wan Chai and they have never complained about the name. Just changing the name to Soho does not mean brothels will be opened in the area."
But council member Democrat Kam Nai-wai said residents did not want to be associated with the Soho name. "People have already complained to us about the noise from the new bars in the neighbourhood," he said.
"Residents also complained the name Soho would remind people of the vice activities such as drugs and sex shops in London's Soho. They do not want the community or tourists to have that kind of misunderstanding."
British Consulate spokesman Trevor Adams said the issue was "a matter for local decision", but pointed out: "The Soho area of London has become a colourful and cosmopolitan heart of London. It contains a lot of theatres, pubs, restaurants and company offices. It is a favourite place for Londoners and is popular with foreign visitors as well."
The Hong Kong Tourist Association did not return calls yesterday. On its Web site, it describes Soho as "a trendy food district which has transformed some backstreet shophouses along Shelley, Staunton and Elgin Streets in Central district into a cluster of boutique-sized speciality restaurants".