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North Carolina Chinatown set to open next year

By Kelly Chung Dawson in New York | China Daily | Updated: 2013-06-17 11:02

A non-traditional Chinatown is slated to take over a deserted outlet mall in Morrisville, North Carolina, bringing together Chinese businesses, a 5-star hotel and a cultural center. Located near the Raleigh-Durham International Airport, "North Carolina Chinatown" will be privately funded by both Chinese and American investors.

Carolina China Council, a local business association led by North Carolina State professor Lian Xie, is on the verge of closing the deal and plans to open the space in 2014, Lian told China Daily.

"We represent the newer generation of Chinese Americans," Xie said. "We've always wanted to change the image of Chinatowns in the minds of Americans. Many of the old, large Chinatowns developed without planning and are dirty and less developed as a result. But China has changed so much in the last few decades, and that Chinatown doesn't reflect the image of modern China. We want to create something that reflects the new China - a carefully designed, high-end Chinatown that is truly modern."

Developer Mark Herman of Panda Properties Sino told local reporters that North Carolina Chinatown will stand apart from traditional Chinatowns.

"What we're doing is different than those Chinatowns of Chicago, New York, San Francisco and Washington," he told the Duke Chronicle. "We're going to highlight and depict modern Asia. This is going to be a cultural center where people are going to be able to come and learn about authentic Asian culture from every ethnicity - not just Chinese."

The Raleigh area has seen an 80 percent jump in its Chinese American population over the last decade and now numbers more than 15,000.

North Carolina state senator Harris Blake, who is part of the Carolina China Council, believes that the development represents North Carolina's growing interest in China.

"China is a culture that North Carolina needs to become more familiar with, and this is one way to promote that," he told China Daily. "This Chinatown will be unique, and its location couldn't be better. It's going to be a tremendous addition to North Carolina, and we're extremely supportive of it as we continue to promote cultural and business exchanges."

Before opening next year, the mall, which sits on 25 acres of land and includes 300,000 square feet of existing building space, will undergo renovations to introduce an Asian aesthetic to both the interior and a planned garden area, Xie said.

The adjacent 5-star hotel will also reflect an Asian theme, and a cultural center will offer classes and cultural training in a variety of disciplines, including martial arts, language and the arts. An Asian supermarket will offer goods from China, South Korea and Japan, he said.

"Even though we're calling it a Chinatown, it will be broader, encompassing all Asian countries and cultures," Xie said. "We welcome everyone, and we know that it won't be successful if it's only of interest to Chinese or Asian shoppers. We want it to appeal to everyone, Asians and all Americans. We want people who are looking to experience Chinese culture and want to enjoy some entertainment to not even think twice about where to go. They'll know they can come here and be welcome."

Xie, who is a professor in the university's department of marine, earth and atmospheric sciences, has lived in North Carolina for more than 20 years, and helped start the area's first Chinese school. The project was something he felt he needed to do, he said.

"This is for ourselves as well, because the Chinese community needs a place to call our own," he said.

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