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Business Trends

Old Chinese factories given a new lease on life

Repurposed facilities now home to retail, restaurants and cultural events

Turning unused Chinese factories into attractive spaces for other use first began in the early 2000s.

DALIAN, China -- Chinese tourists' love of Europe's ancient towns and cities is fueling China's growing appreciation of days gone by, as the country repurposes decrepit old factories into chic new art galleries and fashionable restaurants.

The trend first appeared in larger cities like Shanghai and Guangzhou at the turn of the century, after which it spread to smaller local cities like Wuhan and Chengdu in the 2010s.

The abandoned Wisdom Park factory in central Dalian is one of the latest structures getting a face-lift and new tenants. Originally built in the 1950s by Dalian Bingshan Group, the crumbling facility -- located on a sprawling 180,000-sq.-meter plot of land -- is being transformed into retail and commercial space, and will also house a beer garden, restaurants and a venue for cultural exhibitions.

After the company relocated its plant in 2017, it started redeveloping the site. A foreign retail company has already held an event there. Bingshan said the site's easy access by car makes it ideal as office and commercial space.

As China's economy began to boom, old factories were torn down and replaced by condominiums, office buildings and commercial facilities. But some of the tottering structures were spared demolition and today there are about 100 fully repurposed factories in the country.

Visitors at a repurposed factory in Harbin

The renovations continue. In 2017, a factory in the city of Harbin in China's northernmost province of Heilongjiang was turned into a facility housing an art gallery and restaurants. Another in Shenzhen was converted into an office building, while in Beijing, an old cooking oil warehouse is scheduled to open as a cultural exchange center.

There are still about 40 abandoned factories near Wisdom Park, and the local government hopes to attract investors with a similar eye for redevelopment.

With high-rise buildings and multiuse urban complexes now commonplace and loosing much of their appeal, developers are discovering that the old factories can create a new buzz, especially in local municipalities where big investment money is drying up.

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