By James Tabafunda
Northwest Asian Weekly
For generations, shoppers visited Asian Plaza at the easternmost part of Seattle’s International District for authentic Southeast Asian food and the rarest of all downtown amenities: free parking.
They will soon find a modern mixed-use commercial center built at an undisclosed price. The first phase of construction is targeted for late 2017, complementing its neighbor, Yesler Terrace’s major redevelopment.
“We want to change it in a way that makes sense for the community,” said Asian Plaza Redevelopment (APR) President Dennis Chinn.
According to APR’s website, the current Asian Plaza – bordered by 10th Avenue South to the west, South Main Street to the north, 12th Avenue South to the east, and South Jackson Street to the south – will be replaced “with a new major (eight-story-tall) redevelopment. It will act as a catalyst to the local economy that has largely been bypassed by the economic progress experienced in other parts of the greater Seattle Metropolitan area.”
Chinn said, “Maybe it’s that people seem to think, ‘Oh, this is the International District. It should be all little, low, one-story buildings.’ Why?”
The new Asian Plaza will feature 240 units of mixed housing, a retail plaza anchored by a new Viet-Wah Supermarket, multiple restaurants, a business-class hotel, a community theater, an underground parking garage for approximately 600 vehicles, a childcare center, and a veterinary clinic.
Architecture firm HEWITT, Chinn says, found a place to put everything. He admits, “What I really appreciate about this is that David (Hewitt), in my view, he’s adopted this as his legacy as well.”
Other partners include Redmond-based Chinn Construction – no relation to Dennis Chinn.
Wilce and Mitsi Shiomi originally bought the two-and-a-half acre site in the late 1940s, after years of hard work.
During World War II, they were detained under Executive Order 9066 at the Tule Lake Segregation Center in California, the largest internment camp for people of Japanese descent from western Washington, northern California, and Oregon.
The Shiomis ran Connors Furniture and Appliance Store for over 40 years. After their retirement, their daughter Sandra and her husband Dennis Chinn took over, converting it to Asian Plaza.
“Little by little, he had a vision,” Chinn said about his father-in-law. “He didn’t have time to do it, and it wasn’t time yet, but now it is.”
Chinn and his sons, Nate and Brian, started working on this legacy project in 2015. Nate is an APR vice president of operations.
Brian’s wife Jennie Cochran-Chinn, an APR vice president of project development, said, “The character will be maintained through the mix of restaurants and through the tenants that we have.” Asian Plaza’s tenants include Tamarind Tree, Vietnam House, Lyn Hair Salon, Ocean Pacific Travel, Sichuanese Cuisine, and Thanh Vi.
“We’re taking something that we’ve had for years and trying to make it something better that will survive for generations,” Nate Chinn said. “We also imagine it as multicultural: Vietnamese plus Chinese, plus honoring our Japanese heritage.”
Viet-Wah Group founder and chairman Duc Tran was a Chinese-Vietnamese refugee who immigrated to the United States and now provides APR with important insights from the Vietnamese American community, as well as the Chinese American community. His daughter, Leeching, joins him and serves as an APR vice president.
He opened Viet-Wah Supermarket at Asian Plaza in 1986, becoming its first tenant.
“I’m in the process of retiring, and now Dennis pulls me back in,” Tran said, laughing. “I will come and help.”
“We are in the transition to get the younger generation to operate the Viet-Wah.”
The APR website says the Asian Plaza redevelopment project is very much a Tran family legacy.
“We’re not saying, ‘Okay, everybody’s got to leave now.’ That’s why we’re phasing in the whole thing,” Dennis Chinn said. “That way, they don’t have to leave while we do construction.”
Minh-Duc Nguyen is executive director of Helping Link, an agency that provides ESL classes and job assistance programs to Vietnamese, Chinese, and Filipino immigrants. With the help of 123 volunteers and without government funding, the organization provides many programs – including a computer lab and Facebook classes – and services at Asian Plaza.
She said, “We’ve got to figure it out really fast, and work out the next stage. Now, we probably have less than a year to really map out the plan.”
“We’re not trying to displace anyone,” Leeching Tran said. “We just want to make it better and grow and see our community thrive.”
APR’s next step in the redevelopment is applying for the design review in April.
“We’re not planning on building this and selling it,” Dennis Chinn said. “We’re here to stay.”
For more information about Asian Plaza Redevelopment, visit asianplazaredevelopment.com.
James Tabafunda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.