Northwest Asian Weekly
Over 100 people, mostly seniors, attended an outreach meeting for the Chinatown-International District community on Sept. 21, and it ended in a dispute. Hotel Concepts and Seniors in Action hosted the event to present details about the controversial proposed hotel development on 8th Avenue and Lane Street.
Nora Chan, founder of Seniors in Action, asked in Chinese for a show of hands of residents, business and property owners in the audience. Nobody responded. Then she asked in English. She uttered the words “business and property owners” and before she could say “residents,” Bang Nguyen, a real estate agent for Win Realty and a former representative of Save Little Saigon, stood up. He felt the question was divisive and dismissed those who weren’t property or business owners. “There shouldn’t be such a massive project without a community benefits agreement,” said Nguyen. “It was unfair to divide the room by owners and renters, especially the elderly, when they are mostly renters.” We noted that there were property and business owners sitting in the middle of the room who remain silent throughout the entire meeting.
The proposed development at 616 8th Avenue South by Hotel Concepts will be a SpringHill Suites by Marriott. The hotel will be a 14-story, approximately 225,000-square-foot mixed-used structure containing 158 hotel suites, 84 apartment units, and 14 condominiums, with retail space on the ground level. There will be 162 parking spaces.
Hui Tian, principal of Studio19 Architects and lead architect for the development, presented a slideshow of the project and fielded questions. Ed Kim, general counsel for Hotel Concepts (and brother of development owner Han Kim) was also in attendance to answer questions. A translator was present.
Tian felt the outreach meeting was necessary because many of the community seniors did not understand or were misinformed about what the project was, and she felt it would be helpful if the community, and especially seniors, had a chance to see what the project would entail.
The meeting was also initiated by Chan and Seniors in Action. Chan, a property owner, business owner, and Chinatown resident, felt that seniors were being misled about upzoning and development, and primarily the fear that seniors would be displaced due to housing changes. Chan stated in a letter to the Northwest Asian Weekly that posters posted by InterimCDA “caused such an alarm and uneasiness among seniors who thought they were in jeopardy of losing their homes.” The posters, written in Chinese, read, “Emergency Notice. We should not be forced to move.”
Chan wrote, “The last thing we should be doing is keeping an internationally well-respected hotel chain like the Marriott from bringing more business and validation to Chinatown.”
The primary concerns of InterimCDA and Chinatown-International District Coalition (CID) — a group of community organizers which includes people who live and work in the Chinatown-International District — are an increase in traffic, decrease in pedestrian safety, disruption in access to services and daily needs, issues of affordability that would lead to displacement of existing residents and small businesses, and loss of a sense of community, culture, and heritage.
According to Tian, Hotel Concepts hired a traffic engineer to address the issues of traffic and pedestrian safety. The revised plan includes all drop-offs happening inside the building, rather than outside to minimize congestion. Addressing issues of heritage and culture, the hotel will be providing planters, seating, and pavement with artwork, and red accents in the brick to integrate the hotel into the Chinatown landscape.
There will also be a community space for rent.
Questions from the audience primarily focused on the rental cost of the units, prices for the condominiums, and availability of units and the hotel itself (primarily the lobby) for the community. In reply to the rental rates of the apartments, Tian said she did not have the answer at the time. She stated the condominiums were reserved for the owner and his family, who intend on living in the building. As for the lobby, she said, “No one will stop you from using it…It’s a hotel lobby.”
Bev Ku stated she had been living in Chinatown for approximately 11 years and had witnessed crime and a tent city. She felt that a majority of residents would agree they would like a new hotel in the area to incite business and safety. The property and business owners, who had remained silent up until that point, applauded.
“It’s the wrong place,” stated Nguyen. “It’s so sensitive between the elderly and the clinic. For a high-traffic area, it will hurt the community.”
The development is still pending the review of application for construction and development. Construction was initially scheduled to begin early summer of 2017.
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