China-themed malls a trend in the Bay area

Updated: 2014-01-29 11:14

By Chen Jia(China Daily USA)

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In the Year of the Horse, the San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley are both showing their particular affinity and openness to China, as well as open arms to new Chinese immigrants bringing in hefty investments.

Developers are planning up to $300 million in building two shopping malls in Fremont and Milpitas. Both cities are targeted at Asian newcomers, particularly Chinese consumers.

"A recent city poll showed that 85 percent of all Fremont residents consider the city to be welcoming to newcomers," Kelly Kline, Fremont's economic development director, told China Daily.

"One possible reason for this result may be the presence of a number of ethnic retail centers that meet the specific needs of the city's diverse population," she said.

China-themed malls a trend in the Bay area

According to the city's official data, around 50 percent of the population of Fremont is Asian. About 25 percent has ethnic origins in East Asia, including China and nearby nations.

Located in east Bay Area, Fremont will see a $200 million retail shopping complex named Globe Mall, which occupies a total of 450,000 square feet of shops, restaurants, cultural spaces and a hotel with 248 rooms.

Though local media said the project will be "Asian- and European-themed", Kline emphasized the Globe is unique in that it represents many parts of Asia, including China.

"The Globe shopping mall will play a more regional role than the existing Asian Centers clustered in Fremont.The large size, freeway-visible, event space and hotel component will reinforce that regional draw," she said.

This site has strong freeway visibility from the 880 corridor, and is centrally located to be able to draw from all parts of the Bay Area. The project will also offer significant indoor and outdoor event space which can serve as a major draw to attract customers.

About 15 minutes' driving distance away, the South Bay city of Milpitas also vies for Chinese newcomers with a similar investment plan of $100 million for an Asian-themed shopping center.

If realized, it will include a 260,000-square-foot Asian retail center and hundreds of small shops in an enclosed shopping complex. Also, the project will go with a hotel with 240 rooms and an underground parking garage capable of at least 820 vehicles.

"It would be the only project of its kind in the United States - a large enclosed Asian-themed mall," Jim Kessler, a development adviser for Canada-based Torgan Group, the owner of the McCarthy Ranch retail complex, told the San Jose Mercury News recently.

"There are other Asian-oriented tenant projects, but not of this scope and concept," he said.

Dating back to the first arrival of immigrants during the Gold Rush, China and the San Francisco Bay region have a 160-year relationship. Without educational and political privileges, the early generation of Chinese immigrants helped Americans built railroads and worked as labors.

Since then, successive waves of immigrants from China have made important contributions to the regional economy, according to a recent report released by the Bay Area Council Economic Institute.

The new arrivals are changing the old image of Chinese - as business owners, and most recently as entrepreneurs with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

They are promoting the Bay Area real estate market, bringing in investment for business and education and stimulating travel industry. For many US cities, they are job creators.

While China will remain a sometimes controversial topic in Washington, the institute president and CEO Sean Randolph said that "the Bay Area has shown a particular affinity and openness to China, and ever since the historic creation of the Shanghai-San Francisco Sister City Committee, has reached out to develop new relationships and channels".

New intermediary entities such as ChinaSF and the Bay Area Council's Shanghai and Hangzhou offices exemplify this trend and provide platforms for continued business growth, he said.

The Bay Area has also contributed to China's development as a global economy, he added.

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Yu Wei has contributed to the story.

(China Daily USA 01/29/2014 page2)