Proposed North Miami Chinatown miles from Asian community

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NORTH MIAMI, Fla. (AP) — North Miami, following in the steps of cities such as New York, San Francisco and Washington, plans to create a Chinatown arts and business district next year.

Despite a small Asian population, the city council wants to build Chinatown from the ground up, though some business owners in the area say there is already an unofficial Chinatown with long-established stores some 30 blocks away.

"It's really far," said Jiang Xianguang who opened Cy Restaurant last year with her husband in the unofficial Chinatown. "It should be up here because more Chinese customers come here."

Earlier this year, North Miami's city council approved the plan to build the Chinatown along a busy commercial corridor. This Chinatown will be in an area known more for its strip malls and shops rather than a high concentration of Asian immigrants. It is expected to have several Asian-owned commercial businesses, tech start-up companies, Chinese artwork and restaurants.

Chinese investors are one of the major reasons this new Chinatown will be created. In late July, North Miami Vice Mayor Alix Desulme welcomed a 12-member delegation from Shanghai that consisted of investors, business leaders and realtors interested in the new Chinatown district.

Desulme said hundreds of Asian college students coming from overseas to attend classes each year at Florida International University will see the Chinatown as a place to call home.

About $30 million to $40 million will be spent on infrastructure, but most of it will come from private investment, he said.

"We not only wanted to represent Chinese culture but to also bring economic development," the vice mayor said. "This is an area that really needed infrastructure and change."

Craig Studnicky of the real estate marketing company ISG International has been in talks with some of the Chinese investors.

"Compared to other popular cities in the U.S. that they like to invest in, Miami is an extraordinary bargain," Studnicky said. "In addition to the phenomenal weather, we have some of the cleanest air in the country."

In the past, efforts were made to create a Chinatown in areas such as Homestead and on Miami's Biscayne Boulevard, but the plans never took off.

Although the Asian population in North Miami is about 1,275 people, according to Census numbers, Desulme said that the likelihood of a Chinatown succeeding economically is high since others in Philadelphia, Houston and Washington D.C have worked.

"D.C. alone makes $2.2 billion dollars a year," said Desulme. "Therefore, this type of economic model has been the best and we want to create something similar to that."

Urban planner Victor Dover said it will take years for it to become an economic force and be recognized by tourists. In the case of Chinese restaurant owners such as the Xianguang family, Dover said that past Chinatowns have helped businesses prosper even when they're farther away.

"Just because the city goes about creating a Chinatown in that location doesn't mean that they can't also have a successful business," Dover said.

Officials hope to have an opening ceremony for the new Chinatown next fall.

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