Wharf Is Searching For A Port In Hong Kong's Storm

The real estate giant keeps rents high as its troubles mount

Leon Lam, owner of a small shop in Kowloon's tourist district, is an unlikely renegade. The 45-year-old Lam runs Lace Lane, a linen boutique he inherited from his father. It sits in a 300-square-foot space rented from a hotel owned by Wharf Holdings Ltd., one of Hong Kong's biggest conglomerates. Beset by slumping sales, Lam has joined 300 other Wharf tenants in a rebellion. On Feb. 10, they descended on Wharf corporate headquarters, calling for a 40% rent cut. But while other developers have helped retailers by slashing rents by up to 30%, Wharf is still charging the premium rates set last year, before Asia's financial crisis. "They are the toughest," Lam says.

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