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More retail centers cater to Asian consumers

April 9, 2018

Asian-focused shopping centers are popping up with greater regularity across the U.S. as developers capitalize on a fast-growing Asian-American population and the resultant demand for Far Eastern restaurant and grocery options.

Asian-Americans make up about 6 percent of the U.S. population, according to the latest Census Bureau information, with the three largest groups being Chinese, Filipino and Indian. Most important, the U.S. Asian population grew by 72 percent between 2000 and 2015, to 20.4 million, the fastest growth rate of any major racial or ethnic group.

Nearly half of U.S. Asians live in the West, with about one-third of those living in California. Nearly one-fourth of Asian-Americans live in the South, about 20 percent are concentrated in the Northeast, and roughly 12 percent live in the Midwest. Aside from Hawaii, where U.S. Asians accounted for 56 percent of the population in 2015, Asians make up the largest share of the overall population in California (16 percent there), with New Jersey, Nevada and Washington state counting 10 percent each.

Sister-and-brother team Heather and John Nguyen, development partners at Houston-based NewQuest Properties, say they hope their new Asian-themed developments will meet this growing population base. Their first project was the 150,000-square-foot Carrollton (Texas) Town Center, which opened in 2016 in that Dallas suburb and is anchored by a 99 Ranch Market gourmet Asian supermarket and a Daiso Japan discount store.

“We don't really have ties back to the homeland, so for us, even though we are Asian and we grew up in the U.S., we still want to experience a lot of our Asian culture”

The team is developing a 100,000-square-foot center featuring Asian retailers and restaurants in Frisco, north of Dallas, with completion set for sometime this fall. The Carrollton project took nearly three years to complete, from planning to opening. 

“We don't really have ties back to the homeland, so for us, even though we are Asian and we grew up in the U.S., we still want to experience a lot of our Asian culture,” said Heather Nguyen. “Carrollton Town Center was a really fun project, because it allowed us to have a personal tie to it in that we wanted to create a destination where we could experience and our children could experience the Asian culture here in the U.S.”

Focusing on a strong restaurant lineup and bringing new concepts to the state were priorities as well. “We brought in concepts that had not been here in Texas so far,” said John Nguyen. “The goal was to establish a nice regional and approachable Asian-themed shopping center that is also a destination on the weekends and a great shopping experience.”

99 Ranch Market operates 45 stores across California, Nevada, Washington state, Texas and New Jersey

Though a strong Asian population base is important to making these themed centers work, developers also want to appeal to a broader audience that craves Asian culture and cuisine. “It is all about density overall, because we think in areas that are dense enough and regional enough, people will come,” said Heather Nguyen. “We do look for a certain amount of Asian density that is already introduced to and aware of these types of uses and brands that we are bringing, but we are also targeting the mainstream non-Asian customer that has an appreciation for Asian cuisine.”

The concept is proving to be a draw for nearby cities as well. “When we built in Carrollton, the city of Frisco came to us asking how we could do this in their city,” said Heather Nguyen. “Now we are working with lots of different cities that are inviting us to come and bring this to their cities, because there is already the demand there.”

The Nguyen team is working on an Asian-themed center called Katy Grand, in their hometown of Houston. That center is to be dominated by a mix of Asian and more-mainstream restaurants, along with a Cinemark movie theater. Other projects are slated for Houston and beyond the state. “We are looking into other markets, and we want to build this all over the U.S.,” Heather Nguyen said.

“The goal was to establish a nice regional and approachable Asian-themed shopping center that is also a destination on the weekends and a great shopping experience”

Other areas of the country are already embracing the concept. In Idaho, the city of Boise has seen enough growth in its Asian-American population to warrant a new shopping center catering to those needs. Salt Lake City–based investor group China Town Plaza purchased a 100,000-square-foot shopping center called Library Plaza, on the west side of the city, and is investing $1 million to redevelop it with an Asian theme. The first phase of the redevelopment will include a 14,000-square-foot Asian grocery store set to open this summer, according to Marcus Tam, a Boise Premiere Real Estate agent who represents the development group. The developers hope to complete redevelopment sometime in 2019, Tam says.

Idaho’s Chinese population accounted for 30 percent of the state’s total population back in the 1870s, primarily because of mining operations there. That population segment has been growing rapidly over the past several years. “We are about four to five hours away from Salt Lake, and I know a lot of our local Asian population actually drives over there to do their grocery shopping,” said Tam. “That speaks a lot to the trend on why we would start this project here.”

Not every proposed Asian-themed project has come to fruition. A $100 million, 260,000-square-foot shopping center proposed in the suburban San Francisco city of Milpitas, announced in January 2014, never broke ground at all. Earlier this year the developers lost their zoning for the project, and it is effectively dead while the city awaits new development proposals.

A $100 million project is scheduled to open in August of 2019 in Las Vegas: an Asian-themed entertainment center called Kind Heaven, which will be located on the Strip, in the Linq Hotel & Casino’s Promenade Shopping Center. Spanning 100,000 square feet, this project will combine food and retail. The food portion will offer street vendors that reflect traditional Asian markets, as well as a bar and themed areas with venues for various genres of music from Southeast Asia and the U.S.

“A multifaceted strategy is necessary to make a center like this work”

The concept has taken hold north of the U.S. border as well. There is, for example, Canada-based Torgan Group and MPI Property Group's New Horizon Mall, an Asian-themed, $200 million center set to open soon, northeast of Calgary. At 1.2 million-square feet, this will be Canada’s second-largest mall and has 500 retail condominium units measuring between roughly 150 square feet and 900 square feet.

Another example is the Pacific Pearl shopping center, in Pleasanton, Calif, east of San Francisco. Set for a  July opening, Pacific Pearl is to have 112,000 square feet of retail space and is to be anchored by 99 Ranch Market and a King Wah restaurant. Danville, Calif.–based Blake Griggs Properties owns the project.

“An Asian theme was decided for the Pacific Pearl development as the Tri-Valley [area] had a void in the market for a brand-new, class-A, purpose-built, Pan-Asian, grocery-anchored shopping center,” said Ryan McNamara, a senior development director at Blake Griggs. The Asian population in Pleasanton, Dublin and San Ramon increased by triple digits between 2010 and 2015.

All developers agree, however, that while an Asian population base is crucial to success, more is required. Pacific Pearl is located across the street from the San Francisco Premium Outlets and the ownership hopes to tap into that strong market, which includes a significant nonlocal Asian demographic, says McNamara. “A multifaceted strategy is necessary to make a center like this work."

By Ben Johnson

Contributor, Shopping Centers Today

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