NEW YORK, July 25 (Xinhua) — The first Chinatown in the U.S. state of Florida, now under construction in the city of North Miami, will be an economic engine of the city and the state once it’s completed, said Alix Desulme, councilman and vice mayor of the city.
“The project is going phenomenal. This will be the first Chinatown in Florida. Florida is the gateway for the international (community) as you come into the Americas,” Desulme told Xinhua in a recent interview. “It’s a right fit, a right idea for the right time.”
North Miami is a suburban community of some 60,000 residents in the much larger Miami metro area of more than 5 million people, Larry Spring, city manager of North Miami, wrote in a signed article published recently on local media.
The project of Florida’s first Chinatown was initiated in early 2016, after local business leaders “who have been into the relationship between the U.S. and China” came to Desulme to raise the idea when he was first elected into office in 2015.
There will be a signature gateway arch in the Chinatown, which “will celebrate the innovation of New China,” and will see a groundbreaking later this year, Spring said in his article.
Desulme said they wanted the gateway arch to be “iconic and different,” making visitors get a glimpse of modern China, and it would be “a very unique corridor for the city and south Florida because of our geographic location.”
Based on a series of preliminary research, authorities found the economic opportunities created by the project to be “major,” because of the prospering tourism in Florida and the resource of Florida International University (FIU), which has a campus in north China’s Tianjin municipality.
FIU operates the Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, and has run the Marriott Tianjin China Program since 2006, which is a collaboration between FIU and Tianjin University of Commerce (TUC).
Students will complete a full semester at the FIU program located on the campus of TUC and learn about Chinese culture. Meanwhile, Chinese students also have the chance to study in Florida.
“We have over 500 students from China who come to North Miami every year to study abroad,” Desulme said. “So we do have a foundation there, and that has been the backbone of this project.”
“We think that this project, once it’s completed, within the next few years, will definitely be a welcoming opportunity for all the tourism. The millions who come to south Florida will visit Chinatown,” he noted.
“Based on our study, folks from China said that they would love to come to (North) Miami once they have like a cultural place to go that they could identify themselves with,” he added.
Apart from the aim to bolster local tourism, city officials have also been working on a business incubator in the “Chinatown Innovative District.”
The area would include a welcome center for investors, visitors and residents interested in having a more interactive experience of the proposed Chinatown project.
“Investors are very interested. So from the inception of the project until now, it’s just been a phenomenal ride,” Desulme said.
The incubator also highlighted a collaboration with the business school at Johnson & Wales University, which has been developing a specific incubator model for the Chinatown, according to local media reports.
“There’s a lot of work that our economic development team in North Miami will be doing to the local businesses, as well as getting the chambers of commerce involved to express to them how beneficial this project would be for local businesses,” Desulme added.
Despite the ongoing U.S.-China trade tensions, Desulme believed that the potential for cooperation between U.S. and Chinese companies remains high, especially for those in the sister cities of the two countries.
“Because our focus is mainly dealing with local city-to-city and people-to-people (issues), so we’re not really influenced by what’s going on on a federal level or even on a statewide level. So we are mostly focusing on (keeping) in touch with cities, and doing the everyday, day-to-day things that we do,” Desulme said.
“We’ve got to stay focused on what we need to do to connect people to people and to advocate the importance of cities working together,” he added.
To better support the Chinatown project, Desulme also mentioned that they have been making efforts to establish direct flights to China, which will benefit various businesses and institutions.
“We are just supporting the backbone of the talks and we have had several discussions on either flights from Miami to Beijing or Miami to Shanghai,” he said.
Spring also noted in his article that if the Chinatown project succeeds, it will “turn a portion of our city into a destination of its own, alongside Miami’s beautiful beaches and vibrant nightlife, while raising the quality of life for everyone.”