Wuhan’s skyline abutting the Yangtze River has been growing upwards as the megacity of more than 10 million residents feverishly pushes its city limits not only horizontally, but also into the skies.

But the city’s skyline appears to have reached its limits.

Wuhan’s cadres in the provincial capital of Hubei province wanted to make a bold statement about the city’s resurgence as the largest urban center in central China when they broke ground in 2011 on a 126-story, 636-meter waterfront super-tall tower.

The builder was the Shanghai-based Greenland Holdings, reportedly with generous zero-interest loans and a nominal land premium on offer to offset the 30 billion yuan (US$4.27 billion) investment.

Construction of the tower, called the Wuhan Greenland Center, was ratcheted up to wrestle the title of China’s tallest skyscraper from competitors during the ensuing years when new super-tall towers were also built in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Shenzhen.

But despite its early start, the Wuhan project became a dismal laggard in the race while these other four top-tier cities inaugurated their towering landmarks of 500 meters or higher in recent years.

Wuhan’s cadres previously wanted the tower to be China’s tallest to symbolize the rise of their city. Photo: Weibo

The Wuhan project has been beset by controversies over the years with its completion pushed back and its height scaled-down several times to less than 500 meters, either due to aviation clearance limits or cost overruns. These changes led to the extra cost of tweaks to the original structural design as well as drastic changes to the appearance of its pinnacle.

In October, the fate of the unfinished skyscraper, arguably the highest of its kind across the nation, was again up in the air when the giant cranes atop it stopped moving after the project’s main contractor, China State Construction, decided to pull all its workers offsite.

Greenland and Wuhan cadres received a letter that month from the contractor requesting the settlement of all payments in arrears, before construction could be resumed, three years after the project’s estimated topping-out originally slated for 2016.

The unfinished tower now stands at 475 meters above the surface of the Yangtze River, a mere 25 meters to go to reach its revised height.

China News Weekly reported that the Wuhan tower also lost some of its anchor tenants after its height was cut, including the ultra-luxurious Ritz-Carlton hotel, which originally intended to occupy its top floors.

Its developer Greenland also noted in its latest interim report that its gearing ratio had skyrocketed to almost 90%, with lenders applying more red tape when issuing new loans.

The skyline of Shanghai’s Lujiazui CBD, with the 632-meter Shanghai Center (right) being China’s tallest building. Photo: Asia Times
Modern skyscrapers in Guangzhou. The provincial capital of Guangdong now boosts an economy bigger than that of Hong Kong. Photos: Asia Times

All this comes amid a rumored policy shift mandated by Beijing that no new skyscrapers should rise beyond the 500-meter mark for safety, cost-saving and aviation clearance, as top policymakers seek to clamp down on local cadres’ sky-high ambitions.

The cadres have a penchant for skyscrapers as symbols of wealth and city status, even though lower-tier cities have long been grappling with a glut of office and retail space as they continue to erect empty towers.

Other than the Wuhan tower, officials in Tianjin are also wondering what to do with the 117-story, 596-meter Goldin Finance 117, which has been unfinished and unoccupied since its topping-out in 2015.

China now boasts four buildings taller than that level, all in first-tier cities – Shanghai Tower (632 meters), Ping An Finance Center in Shenzhen (599m), Guangzhou CTF Finance Center (530m) and China Zun in Beijing (528m).

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