By Tim Gruver
Northwest Asian Weekly
When Min Christ came to the United States in 1989 from her native China, she left behind a potential career in microbiology for one in real estate. Twenty-seven years later, Christ is helping other immigrant entrepreneurs achieve their dreams, while managing one of the most expensive hotels in Renton.
Christ is the founder of the Global Incubation Center at Southport and an investment management professional at SECO Development. As the official partner for the Tencent Global Startup Competition, led by Tencent Holdings Limited, a Chinese investment firm, the Incubation Center mentored Chinese and American internet start-up companies looking to enter the Chinese market last July. Winning teams, which included alumni from the University of Washington, won interviews with Chinese investors who will help them introduce their start-ups to the Chinese market.
Founded in 1989 by Christ’s husband, Michael Christ, SECO Development has overseen previous land development projects in Kirkland, Bellevue, and Mercer Island. Its latest project is a 12-story, 350-room Hyatt Regency hotel in Renton. The $180 million project has attracted over 200 investors, the majority of which are located in Asia, including China and Vietnam.
The hotel is expected to open June 1, 2017.
The Southport campus boasts 17.5 acres of waterfront property south of Lake Washington, with views important to maintaining Southport’s capacities as a spiritual space.
“It’s a very beautiful space,” Christ said. “For Chinese, it has very good feng shui, with Mount Rainier right behind you and the face of the water in front of you.”
Situated between Seattle and Bellevue, the Southport campus was designed to provide easy access to the nearby Sea-Tac International and Renton Municipal airports, as well as Boeing Field. Upon completion, Southport will include three, 9-story office buildings and 200 units of housing. It will also accommodate businesses, such as restaurants, coffee shops, and retailers, three things crucial for making places like Southport feel like a community, according to Christ.
“Real estate is about the land, not about development,” Christ said. “It’s important that it feels like a home, not like a box.”
The project is partially financed through the EB-5 program, which grants immigrant investors temporary U.S. residency through investments of $500,000 or $1 million. Immigrants investing $550,000 in the new hotel at Southport will receive permanent residency for themselves and their families.
Simply getting investors to Southport is the only real challenge.
“The better the project, the more you will want to invite people to see it,” Christ said. “If [the investors] are here, it’s easy for them to invest.”
For immigrant entrepreneurs looking to go into real estate themselves, Christ cautioned that they should be ready to have consultants and local partners of their own when approaching overseas investors.
“When you come in by yourself, the lending process can be pretty painful,” Christ said.
When SECO first bought the site that became the Southport campus in 1999, a power plant originally stood in its place overlooking Lake Washington, a symbol of Renton’s blue collar roots. Christ hopes that Southport’s hotel is one step towards bolstering Renton’s image as a high-tech center that will attract the right investors.
“We want to change Renton’s image, not just as a blue collar town,” Christ said. “We want to make this happen, to make it known as a high-tech town.”
Min Christ will be an honoree at the Northwest Asian Weekly’s Technology and Innovation Awards. The event is Oct. 7 at China Harbor Restaurant from 6–9 p.m. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Online tickets at http://visionary.bpt.me.
Tim can be reached at email@example.com.