Property development here is so hot that last year, housing sales in Ordos reached $2.4 billion, up from $100 million in 2004, according to government statistics. During that span, the average square-foot price of commercial and residential property has risen by 260 percent, to $53.
“This is a city of the future,” Li Hong, a government official, said during a recent tour of Kangbashi. “We are going to build this into a center of politics, culture and technology. That is our dream.”
But the future has not yet arrived, despite Mr. Li’s best efforts to persuade a visitor otherwise.
“You can see there’s real energy here,” he said one afternoon, looking out onto the mile-square town commons, even though only a few dozen people — presumably government workers — could be seen on the vast square, where towering bronze sculptures honor the Mongolian warrior Genghis Khan. The vacant amenities surrounding the square include a theater, an opera house and an art museum.
Only a few minutes earlier, Mr. Li escorted a reporter through an empty 500,000-square-foot convention center and a 12-story office tower that had dark hallways, locked doors and just a few scattered souls.
“The media who said this was a ghost town came and took photographs at 6 or 7 in the evening,” said Mr. Li, noting that many government workers continue to commute from the old town because of the lack of stores and restaurants in the new area.
City leaders may be basing their optimism on the financial windfall in recent years for Ordos, which sits atop one of the world’s biggest reserves of coal, whose price has soared along with China’s voracious energy appetite. Formerly impoverished, the region now has a growing number of coal millionaires and the nation’s highest gross domestic product per capita ($19,679) , with Land Rovers a leading symbol of Ordos’s newfound affluence.
“I started my company in 1988; before that, I was a low-level government official,” said Zhang Shuangwang, 66, chairman of the Yitai Group, one of the region’s biggest privately owned coal and transport companies. “Back then, I had a team. The government gave us $7,500 and then loaned us $60,000 and said, ‘Do whatever you want.’ We bought a coal mine.”
Two decades later, Mr. Zhang is a billionaire, and Wall Street is courting his $4 billion company to help one of its units prepare a public stock listing.
In 2004, with Ordos tax coffers bulging with coal money, city officials drew up a bold expansion plan to create Kangbashi, a 30-minute drive south of the old city center on land adjacent to one of the region’s few reservoirs. Because land auctions are a major source of fiscal income in China, part of the plan’s allure was the prospect of elevating the value of property in an undeveloped area.
In the ensuing building spree, home buyers could not get enough of Kangbashi and its residential developments with names like Exquisite Silk Village, Kanghe Elysees and Imperial Academic Gardens.
Some buyers were like Zhang Ting, a 26-year-old entrepreneur who is a rare actual resident of Kangbashi, having moved to Ordos this year on an entrepreneurial impulse.
“I bought two places in Kangbashi, one for my own use and one as an investment,” said Mr. Zhang, who paid about $125,000 for his 2,000-square-foot investment apartment. “I bought it because housing prices will definitely go up in such a new town. There is no reason to doubt it. The government has already moved in.”
Asked whether he worried about the lack of other residents, Mr. Zhang shrugged off the question.
“I know people say it’s an empty city, but I don’t find any inconveniences living by myself,” said Mr. Zhang, who borrowed to finance his purchases. “It’s a new town, let’s give it some time.”
Bao Beibei contributed research.