‘Little Saigon’ banners allowed

By Joshua Molina
Mercury News

var requestedWidth = 0;

Click photo to enlarge

“Little Saigon” supporters wait outside of the San Jose City Hall… (Nhat V. Meyer / Mercury News)

viewer_currentlySelected = 1; viewer_lastIndex = 1; viewer_images = [‘http://extras.mnginteractive.com/live/media/site568/2008/0326/20080326_031922_3.26.saigon_VIEWER.jpg’%5D; viewer_widths = [‘199’]; viewer_heights = [‘132’]; viewer_captions = [“\”Little Saigon\” supporters wait outside of the San Jose City Hall… (Nhat V. Meyer / Mercury News)”]; viewer_galleryUrl = ‘/portlet/article/html/render_gallery.jsp’; viewer_articleId = ‘8700698’; viewer_siteId = ‘568’; viewer_isPreviewing = ‘false’; viewer_isEmbedded = ”; viewer_activeButtonLead = 2; viewer_visibleButtonCount = 5; viewer_allowEnlargement = !isEmpty(viewer_galleryUrl); selectImage(1); function addToDimension(dim, val){ index = dim.indexOf(‘px’); if(index != -1){ dim = dim.substring(0, index); } dim = parseInt(dim) + val; return dim; } if(navigator.userAgent.indexOf(“MSIE”) != -1){ $(‘photoviewer’).style.width = addToDimension($(‘photoviewer’).style.width, 2); $(‘caption’).style.height = addToDimension($(‘caption’).style.height, 2); } requestedWidth = 202;

if(requestedWidth < 200){ requestedWidth = 200; }

if(requestedWidth > 0){ document.getElementById(‘articleViewerGroup’).style.width = requestedWidth + “px”; document.getElementById(‘articleViewerGroup’).style.margin = “0px 0px 10px 10px”; } After months of protests, rallies, even a hunger strike, the San Jose City Council on Tuesday voted to allow “Welcome to Little Saigon” banners to informally recognize a Vietnamese retail area on Story Road.

The 10-0 vote brought an end to the unprecedented uproar over the past several months after the council voted to call the area “Saigon Business District,” enraging thousands in the community who wanted “Little Saigon.” The original vote was recently rescinded after the wave of protest.

The council’s Tuesday vote paves the way for the community to raise money and then get city approval for temporary banners on Story Road between Highway 101 and Senter Road. The banners are likely to be made permanent once the city comes up with a new process for naming business districts – to ensure that the ideas come from the ground up and to avert future political disasters over naming.

Officials don’t know how soon they could mount the banners, but approval of the design could take up to 45 days.

At the center of the months-long firestorm was Madison Nguyen, the only Vietnamese-American on the council. Activists called her a traitor and a liar for initially opposing the name Little Saigon. On Tuesday, Nguyen, who had repeatedly insisted that she would not change her mind on the name, said she was “filled with optimism.”

“It is only through productive dialogue and communication that we are able to work together,” she said.

Nguyen preferred


the name Saigon Business District – even though an official city survey conducted last summer showed Little Saigon was the preferred name. As the weeks went by, the Little Saigon movement picked up momentum.

The outrage was fueled by several missteps by the council. Councilman Forrest Williams (who was absent from Tuesday’s vote because he was visiting China) said in an interview on Vietnamese television that he had promised prior to the council’s Nov. 20 vote to support Nguyen’s decision to designate the district as a Vietnamese retail area. His comments forced the city attorney to recommend that the council rescind its original vote because of a perception Nguyen had spoken to a majority of council members before the vote – which would have violated the Brown Act, the state’s open meetings law.

One man, Ly Tong, also went on a hunger strike for more than a month, saying he would not eat until the council named the area Little Saigon.

The ordeal sapped time and energy from the city and sparked unwanted international media attention.

“This is the first positive step to solve the conflict and reduce the tension between the city and the Viet community,” said Barry Hung Do, spokesman for San Jose Voters For Democracy, the main group pushing for the Little Saigon name.

Still, on Tuesday some people were not happy. They want the city to make the temporary signs permanent.

‘If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, why don’t we just call it a duck?” said Councilman Kansen Chu, a Little Saigon proponent.

Contact Joshua Molina at jmolina@mercurynews.com or (408) 275-2002

Protesters reject Nguyen’s name for retail district; want ‘Little Saigon’


By Joshua Molina
Mercury News



var requestedWidth = 0;

Click photo to enlarge



Councilwoman Madison Nguyen listens to people chant “Little… (Maria J. Avila / Mercury News)


In a raucous scene outside City Hall, Nguyen – hoping to broker a compromise between Vietnamese factions dueling over whether to call the area “Little Saigon” or “New Saigon” – stepped to a microphone with Mayor Chuck Reed and three other council members at her side. “It is with great hope and excitement that I propose the name ‘Saigon Business District’ for this area,” she said. “I hope this name will unite the community as one.”

There was momentary silence from the more than 200 people in the audience. Then much of the crowed broke into a chant of “Little Saigon” while waving signs and placards. One woman’s sign inexplicably read, “My Lover Is In Little Saigon.”

Members of the Vietnamese media and a small, but loud group of Little Saigon supporters later followed and crowded Nguyen as she walked back to her office on the 18th floor of City Hall.

The chaotic episode sets the stage for what is expected to be a dramatic city council meeting Tuesday night. The council will vote on what to call the one-mile strip of mostly Vietnamese-owned restaurants, jewelry stores and markets on Story Road.

The first Vietnamese-American woman elected to office in the state, Nguyen now faces threats of a recall from Little Saigon supporters who say she is siding with her business associates instead of the people who voted her into



office. Similar to the spats among Cuban emigres in Miami, the debate is laced with rhetoric that has historically marked Vietnamese-American politics – accusations that people are either radical anti-communists or passive communist sympathizers.

After taking over Saigon in 1975, the communist leaders of Vietnam renamed it Ho Chi Minh City. Supporters of Little Saigon like the name because it represents the way things were before the takeover. Nguyen and business owners in the area want to attract non-Vietnamese clientele to the area and believe Little Saigon is too narrow in its appeal.

“It is kind of unbelievable,” said Phillip Huynh, a San Jose resident. “When we voted for her, we thought she represented us. I think she is pro-communism.”

Nguyen, who fled to the United States with her family by boat after South Vietnam fell to communist forces, said she has heard those criticisms before. But she said it’s her job to serve all of her constituents.

The debate over the names carries “a host of cultural, national and historical connotations, evoking a complex struggle between folks seeking to affirm their connection to Vietnam and those wishing to sharply distinguish themselves from the current government” there, said Andrew Wood, a professor of communications at San Jose State University who specializes in the power behind names.

After Thursday’s announcement, Reed tried to appease the crowd, noting they were still free to call the area whatever they want. The city’s redevelopment agency has budgeted $100,000 for signs and banners for the area, and Nguyen said she expected the signs to say “Saigon Business District.”

But in an interview, Reed said the signs might have no words written on them – only artwork.

The mayor said the Little Saigon supporters are the most vocal – but may not be the majority.

“This is a compromise proposal that tries to accommodate everyone’s preference,” he said. “We have 80,000 Vietnamese people in San Jose. We have 50 people at a press conference.”


Contact Joshua Molina at jmolina@mercurynews.com or (408) 275-2002

O.C.’s Little Saigon to add arches to welcome tourists



The Little Saigon Business Development group will soon begin raising funds for the archways, which will cost $500,000 each. The gates will be located on Bolsa Avenue at Magnolia and Ward streets.

By My-Thuan Tran, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
November 3, 2007

For years, people stumbling into Little Saigon knew they were in the heart of Orange County’s Vietnamese community only when they noticed restaurant signs advertising pho noodles or caught snippets of conversations in Vietnamese.

Now, community leaders hope the place will be hard to miss: Plans are to build two ornate archways at the entrances of the bustling ethnic business district centered around Bolsa Avenue in Westminster.

Little Saigon markers


Little Saigon markers

click to enlarge

City officials say the archways — conceived to replace earlier conceptsdeemed “too Chinese” — will be the first step in transforming Little Saigon into a tourist destination.

While the area attracts more than 33,000 cars a day, its restaurants and businesses cater mostly to the community, which has struggled to reel in customers from outside.

“The archways will put Little Saigon on the map,” said Councilman Andy Quach, who is spearheading the project. “People will want to go to Little Saigon to look at the art display and take pictures of it.”

The Little Saigon Business Development group will soon begin raising funds for the archways, which will cost $500,000 each. The gates, to span Bolsa Avenue at Magnolia and Ward streets, were approved by the Westminster City Council last year.

The project has attracted the attention of Vietnamese Americans across the country, Quach said.

Virginia’s Vietnamese community will host a dinner fundraiser in Falls Church in December.

Other fundraisers are scheduled for Sydney, Australia, and possibly Hawaii, according to Quach.

“This is not a regional project,” he said. “Vietnamese people across the country visit Little Saigon often, and they see this archway as something that is close and dear to part of their lives.”

The 26-foot-tall archways will show the journey of Vietnamese Americans since the Vietnam War, said Hong Nguyen, president of H & L Architects Inc., which designed them.

The images carved into the cast iron depict a helicopter atop the U.S. Embassy in Vietnam, rickety boats in which hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese escaped, the refugee camps they came to and the Statue of Liberty, symbolizing “the love of freedom of the Vietnamese people,” Nguyen said.

The last image is of Vietnamese Americans wearing graduation hats.

“This archway is more than a symbol of tourism,” said Roxanne Chow, a Westminster planning commissioner involved in the project. “It’s a project that is dedicated for the millions of people who sacrificed their lives for freedom.”

In the last three decades, community leaders have worked to distinguish Little Saigon as thousands of Vietnamese restaurants and shops popped up in the 3-square-mile segment of Westminster and Garden Grove.

An earlier plan for an elaborate bridge across Bolsa Avenue, however, came under fire in the Vietnamese community for being “too Chinese” with its design of dragons and a green-tiled pagoda.

That idea, put forth in 1996 by developer Frank Jao, was eventually dropped.

Now the Vietnamese American community will finally have a landmark in Little Saigon that is truly dedicated to its homeland, Quach said.


Cassidy: ‘Little Saigon’ has a ring to it
By Mike Cassidy
Mercury News Columnist
San Jose Mercury News
Everybody else has an opinion, so here’s mine: When the San Jose City Council votes next month on a name for a one-mile stretch of Story Road, it’s got to go with Little Saigon. The name conjures up a place. It stirs emotion. It’s about history and roots and, yes, politics.

More than that, it sounds good. Nice ring, as they say. The problem? No name is going to please everyone. In fact, any name for the area of hundreds of Vietnamese-American-owned businesses is likely to leave one faction or another furious.

Nobody knows this better than Councilwoman Madison Nguyen. She started the name sweepstakes without intending to do anything of the sort. Nguyen wanted to honor the mom-and-pop businesses that grew up along Story Road between Highway 101 and Senter Road.

“The objective behind the business district that I proposed was to kind of celebrate the achievement and accomplishment of the Vietnamese folks who had contributed to that particular area,” Nguyen says.

Yes, a pat on the back for the architects of a “vibrant marketplace.”

“I never thought the name was going to become an issue,” she says.

You could argue that Nguyen should have known better.

“There is nothing more political than place names, especially names of regions or things that people have a lot of emotion around,” says Susan Russell, whose Albany-based Russell Mark Group helps businesses name products and companies.

The lives of many Vietnam immigrants were molded by war and diaspora. Many who came to San Jose lost their country to the communist government of North Vietnam. They lost their capital, Saigon, to the same forces. It is Ho Chi Minh City now.

And so, Little Saigon had instant traction for the busy stretch of groceries, gift shops, restaurants, nail salons, noodle houses and bakeries.

But there are those who want to look forward, not back. There are those who say “little” is dismissive. There are those who don’t want to be “Little Saigon” because there already are Little Saigons elsewhere.

They’ve suggested: Vietnamese-American Business District, Saigon Town, Vietnamese Business District, New Saigon Business District, Saigon Business District, New Saigon.

But the ring factor? Vietnamese-American Business District sounds like something the census bureau came up with, not a place you’d want to zip over to for a bowl of pho.

Vietnamese Business District has the same problem, though VBD sounds kind of hip. Saigon Town sounds like a theme park. New Saigon Business District, endorsed by a consortium of 14 Vietnamese social, political and religious groups, is better, though it makes me wonder what we did with the old one. Saigon Business District has potential.

And New Saigon, which is supported by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Story Road Business Association, is pretty good.

But I come back to Little Saigon. Yes, there are others. But once San Jose’s Little Saigon is established it will be instantly recognized here as the Little Saigon. “Little” doesn’t have to be dismissive. It can be a term of endearment. And of the relatively few merchants along Story Road who answered a city survey on names, “Little Saigon” came out on top.

Russell, the branding expert, says even those who initially oppose a name often come around.

“Everybody kind of gets on board and then they start to see meaning in it,” she says. “And then they can’t imagine that it was ever called anything else.”

It’s an interesting theory. One that might be sorely tested along a one-mile stretch of Story Road.

Contact Mike Cassidy at mcassidy@mercurynews.com or (408) 920-5536.


‘Little Saigon’ backers press the issue

By Joshua Molina
Mercury News

var requestedWidth = 0;

Click photo to enlarge

During the rally residents hold signs in support of ” Little Saigon .” Sitting… ( Josie Lepe )

viewer_currentlySelected = 1; viewer_lastIndex = 1; viewer_images = [‘http://extras.mnginteractive.com/live/media/site568/2007/0924/20070924__SAIGON24~1_Viewer.JPG’%5D; viewer_widths = [‘199’]; viewer_heights = [‘133’]; viewer_captions = [” During the rally residents hold signs in support of \” Little Saigon .\” Sitting… ( Josie Lepe )”]; viewer_galleryUrl = ‘/portlet/article/html/render_gallery.jsp’; viewer_articleId = ‘6982577’; viewer_siteId = ‘568’; viewer_isPreviewing = ‘false’; viewer_isEmbedded = ”; viewer_activeButtonLead = 2; viewer_visibleButtonCount = 5; viewer_allowEnlargement = !isEmpty(viewer_galleryUrl); selectImage(1); function addToDimension(dim, val){ index = dim.indexOf(‘px’); if(index != -1){ dim = dim.substring(0, index); } dim = parseInt(dim) + val; return dim; } if(navigator.userAgent.indexOf(“MSIE”) != -1){ $(‘photoviewer’).style.width = addToDimension($(‘photoviewer’).style.width, 2); $(‘caption’).style.height = addToDimension($(‘caption’).style.height, 2); } requestedWidth = 202;

if(requestedWidth > 0){ document.getElementById(‘articleViewerGroup’).style.width = requestedWidth + “px”; document.getElementById(‘articleViewerGroup’).style.margin = “0px 0px 10px 10px”; } Amplifying the political pressure on the San Jose City Council, an exuberant crowd of nearly 300 people gathered Sunday to demand that elected officials name a strip of Vietnamese-owned businesses “Little Saigon.”

In a scene resembling a high school pep rally, supporters of the name convened at the Yerba Buena High School gym. They carried American and South Vietnamese flags, clapped their hands repeatedly and waved colorful signs.

The rally thrusts the debate over what to name the business district back into the spotlight, setting the stage for an incendiary council vote, expected to take place in October.

“The name of Little Saigon has a very deep and special meaning to all Vietnamese living in San Jose,” said Huy Nguyen, who spoke at the rally.

Still, it remains to be seen what San Jose will name the strip of businesses along Story Road between Senter Road and Highway 101. Councilwoman Madison Nguyen, the only Vietnamese-American on the council, came under fire this summer for not immediately embracing “Little Saigon.”

Nguyen, who was not at Sunday’s event, has said that her goal is to draw non-Vietnamese customers to the area. She says she will not make up her mind about the name until the matter comes before the council.

Beyond just a debate over what to name a cluster of mostly Vietnamese-owned businesses, the issue has been caught up in a larger political debate that dates back more than three decades. When the communists


GetAd(’tile’,’box’,’/politics_article’,”,’www.mercurynews.com’,”,’null’,’null’);Click Here!

took over Saigon in 1975, they literally wiped Saigon off the map and renamed it after the father of Vietnamese communism, Ho Chi Minh. But the name Ho Chi Minh City is one that many South Vietnamese refugees still find hard to swallow – even though most Ho Chi Minh City residents still call their city by its historical name, Saigon.

For many who fled communist tyranny in 1975 and, later, in rickety boats targeted by pirates, the “Little Saigon” name symbolizes freedom from communist control. But other residents of the area have expressed concerns that “Saigon” may be too narrow in its connotation and could exclude other people.

“There’s a lot of Hispanics who live here,” said Marisela Guerrero, a lifelong San Jose resident, interviewed Sunday on Story Road. “It’s OK as long as other nationalities can come in. Vietnamese people don’t own taquerias.”

With more than 100,000 Vietnamese-Americans in San Jose – the largest such population of any U.S. city – the controversy has spread like wildfire in the Vietnamese community and ethnic media. Supporters of the name have gathered about 2,000 signatures.

Throngs of photographers swarmed Sunday’s rally to snap shots of three generations – children, their parents and grandparents – all of whom at one point shouted “Little Saigon, Yes!, Yes!, Yes!”

Even elected officials from Milpitas and the county are getting involved.

“I believe Little Saigon is the most appropriate name for the shopping district,” said county Supervisor Pete McHugh, wearing a yellow and red tie bearing the colors of the flag of the now-defunct Republic of South Vietnam. He said he plans to speak at the city council meeting to urge the body to name the area Little Saigon.

The only San Jose city councilman in attendance was Kansen Chu. In his brief address to the crowd, he shied away from committing to any name.

“I will not be able to make the decision until I have heard from all sides of the community,” Chu said. “I’ll see you in City Hall.”

For Vietnamese-American Jane Dobui, the decision is an easy one.

“Saigon is part of us,” she said. “We lost Saigon, but we have Saigon in our hearts.”

Jill Singer

March 26, 2007 12:00am

Article from: Herald-Sun

Font size: +

Send this article: Print Email

ONE of the paths to happiness, according to an ancient Indian text, is not to leave your homeland permanently.

The wisdom of this has struck me during my visit to Vietnam.Invited to join a party of Vietnamese men and women, aged from 23 to 50 years, it was remarkable to witness their love of country and each other’s company.

Young women rushed to don traditional northern Vietnamese costume and regale us with the most delicate, lilting

folk songs. Then there was poetry recitation, comb-and-paper saxophone playing, enthusiastic singing of Vietnamese pop songs, accompanied by guitar, and many, many laughs and hugs.

The people here are so enthusiastic about their culture and prosperity that I feel sympathy for the Vietnamese who were forced to make their lives elsewhere in the wake of the Vietnam War, or the American War as the Vietnamese call it.

A woman tells me of her sister’s life in Sydney and how their mother has become too old to visit Australia. The expatriate sister longs for her family in Vietnam, but her children are Australian.

She lives a life amputated from her culture.

Another tells me of Vietnamese-Australian men returning to their homeland in search of wives.

She has happily rejected several offers because she has no desire to leave Vietnam. Why would I leave all this, she asks? Why, indeed?

THE faces I see in Victoria St, Richmond, are sometimes smiling, the atmosphere sometimes redolent of the real Vietnam. Sometimes. But only in a fragile and fractured manner. Little Saigon is a pale imitation of the real Saigon.

The Vietnamese regard for ancestry is also particularly strong, which makes breaking the ties to home additionally difficult.

Many are returning to Vietnam from countries such as Australia, but many more cannot because of newly formed bonds. They have gained new homes and new opportunities, but they are also missing out on so much.

And it’s not just the Vietnamese who find a migratory life is one mixed with tears and joy.

A friend tells me of her gardener, who is saving up to return to the Philippines in his old age. He does not want to die in a strange land.

Throughout my own life I have often dreamed of living elsewhere, perhaps London or New York.

And then I think of being permanently away from home, friends and family, and the appeal quickly fades. Travel is a tonic but home is a haven.

New York, for example, is no place for any but the robust, according to a young architect friend. She recalls with horror a bout of flu while living there.

Not a soul called to inquire after her health, let alone fetch her a bowl of chicken soup.

Friends and colleagues who have made the pilgrimage to London are also returning in droves after finding life there just too darned hard.

Being an outsider can be exhilarating as a visitor, but can prove tiresome over time.

VISIT nursing homes in Australia and listen to migrants suffering from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Their learned English frequently deserts them as they once again speak the language of their birthplace.

Their bodies might be in Melbourne but their hearts and minds are yearning for Poland, Hungary, China and the many other countries that have populated Australia.

Forty per cent of us were either born elsewhere or have migrant parents. No matter how multicultural Australia has become, the ties that bind to other places can tug relentlessly.

Australians need to bear this in mind when considering our immigration policies and treatment of refugees.

Too often it is assumed that people leave their homes and take to the seas in leaky boats because of aspiration rather than desperation.

But just imagine how hard it is to leave your home and what a tough decision it must be to make.

The vast majority are found to be in genuine need of our help and protection. Some will eventually make Australia their new, permanent home. Others will stay only until they can safely return to their loved ones.

Before we judge them, we should imagine ourselves in their position and remember the old adage that applies to us all: there really is no place like home.


Real estate developer Frank Jao and silent partners have put $10 million into projects in his former homeland, suggesting a sea change in political climate.

BIG PLANS: Frank Jao shows his rendering for a development project in Vietnam. Jao is known as the Godfather of Little Saigon because he built many of the landmark malls on Bolsa Avenue. On the wall behind him are projects from the United States.

The Orange County Register

Frank Jao fled Vietnam in 1975 to escape communism and seek his fortune in Orange County.

Now, after becoming the biggest developer in Little Saigon, Jao sees Vietnam as a new land of opportunity – a suggestion that once would have drawn death threats from some anti-communists.

Jao is putting his money where his mouth is. For the first time after three decades in exile, he is investing in his homeland.

“Vietnam is geared up. It’s a good buying opportunity,” Jao, 60, said this week in the Huntington Beach offices of Bridgecreek Development, which has built$400 million worth of projects.

So far, Jao said, he and silent partners have invested about $10 million in two projects. If those go well, he plans to assemble a $100 million private fund for future investments in Vietnam and China.

The investments by Jao – often called the “Godfather of Little Saigon” because his shopping malls helped turn Bolsa Avenue into the Main Street of the largest Vietnamese community outside Vietnam – show how attitudes and economics have changed.

A few years ago, advocates of trade with Vietnam faced boycotts, death threats and denunciation as communist collaborators. When Dr. Co Pham, a physician who headed the Vietnamese-American Chamber of Commerce, proposed opening trade ties in 1994, he would wear a bulletproof vest when he went out in public.

“Frank has always been cautious about his overseas activities,” said Jeffrey Brody, a Cal State Fullerton professor who teaches a course on the Vietnamese-American experience. “If he is openly investing in a project in Vietnam, it’s a sign that the political climate has changed. It’s also a sign that Vietnam is seeking investment from the overseas Vietnamese community and that the overseas Vietnamese trust the government enough to invest millions of dollars.”

Tony Lam, a Vietnamese refugee and former Westminster councilman, said it’s no surprise that Jao is investing openly in Vietnam.

“The people are fed up with anti-communism,” Lam said. “Products from Vietnam are all over here. The people are used to it now.”

Ky Ngo, a Little Saigon community activist who led several protests against Lam and others he accused of being communist collaborators, said he no longer attacks people for simply trading with Vietnam.

But Ngo accused Jao of a different type of collaboration: using a 2002 appointment by President Bush as chairman of the board of the Vietnam Education Foundation to further his personal business interests.

“People aren’t mad about him doing business with Vietnam, but we’re upset he’s using his title with the U.S. government for his benefit,” Ngo said.

Jao said there’s nothing wrong with doing business while also serving on the board because he never uses foundation resources to do business. He said critics like Ngo won’t deter him from investing where he wants.

Controversy has followed Jao before. His mother’s Chinese ancestry and the Chinese architecture of his projects fueled questions about his loyalty to the Vietnamese community, criticisms he dismisses.

“I’m entitled to do business like any citizen,” Jao said. “I am a business entity, so I have to behave like a business entity. I am a U.S. citizen. I can’t be bound by the rules and regulations of the Vietnamese community.”

Incentives to invest in Vietnam are growing as its economy gears up. Vietnam is on track to join the World Trade Organization by November, when it hosts the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference, a summit that will bring 21 heads of state to Hanoi, including Bush.

The International Monetary Fund forecasts 7.8 percent growth for Vietnam this year, leading IMF Chief Economist Raghuram Rajan to call Vietnam an “emerging China.”

Vietnam’s Ministry of Planning and Investment reported $5.15 billion in direct foreign investment in the first nine months of 2006, up 26 percent over the same period in 2005.

Jao’s first investments are a Hanoi-based media company and a food-processing complex outside Ho Chi Minh City, the former Saigon.

Phase I of the Binh Dien Food Distribution Center is under construction, Jao said. The mixed-use complex, which Jao expects to be complete in four years, will employ 25,000 to 30,000 food-processing workers and house 2,100 families.

Jao said his U.S. investment syndicate will own 29 percent of the project.

He also runs another type of company, which only overseas Vietnamese can own, that will control 41 percent of Binh Dien, giving him control of a total 70 percent stake in the enterprise.

Through a private equity company called V-Home Group, Jao owns a minority stake in Vietnamnet, a media subsidiary of the state-owned Vietnam Post & Telecommunications Corp.

“Our goal is to do TV broadcasts, cell phones, Internet and cable,” he said.

V-Home Group also bought a stake in a company called EMHI, which controls the master license for Walt Disney Corp.products in Vietnam. In May, Jao was named as vice chairman of EMHI’s board.

The search for opportunities in Vietnam started in 1988, and Jao said he’s returned to his homeland several times without finding the right deals until this year.

Vietnam’s previous lack of transparency, its capricious bureaucrats and its hurdles against repatriating profits still concern Jao. But U.S. government-sponsored insurance policies through the Overseas Private Investment Corp. give him confidence he won’t lose everything. In some ways, Jao said, development is easier in Vietnam than California.

“Here, it takes two or three years to get a building permit,” he said of Orange County. “In Vietnam, it’s six months to get a permit, and the speed of construction is three times faster.”

Jao, whose local developments include the Asian Garden Mall and Asian Village, among other projects in Little Saigon, continues to build there. He plans to break ground this fall on Saigon Village, a $100 million, 144 condo project for seniors on Moran Street near Bolsa Avenue.

“This is part of our global strategy,” Jao said. “The recent decline of the real estate market in the U.S. is a concern, but it’s not unexpected. Nothing keeps going up forever. Real estate in China and Vietnam has shot up for five years, and we don’t expect that to go on forever.”

CONTACT US: 714-796-7969 or jgittelsohn@ocregister.com

Seattle Weekly.com

July 12, 2006


Goodwill has reached agreement with a developer on a plan that could transform the neighborhood.

By Mike Seely

A mini-Northgate proposed for Little Saigon.

Ryan Frederiksen

Extra Info

Born to be Wild
Bandidos, Angels, Nomads, Mongols: a roundup of recent motorcycle mayhem.
By Rick Anderson

Goodwill Industries’ local chapter has wrestled with how to pay for desired multimillion-dollar upgrades to an increasingly decrepit thrift store, warehouse, and job training facility on 8 acres along South Dearborn Street west of Rainier Avenue South. That land straddles the Little Saigon wing of the International District and the Rainier Avenue commercial corridor. In 2000, local developer Wright Runstad purchased $3.75 million in adjacent parcels and announced a partnership with the charity. Goodwill was to receive upgraded facilities in exchange for allowing Wright Runstad to develop office space. Post-dot-com crash, however, the project fizzled, with Wright Runstad flipping the $3.75 million parcel back to Goodwill in 2005, as per their agreement.

Enter Darrell Vange of Ravenhurst Development, a local partner of TRF Pacific, who has reached an agreement in principle to develop a six-story, 700,000-square-foot mixed-use retail development with some 500 mixed- income housing units and underground parking for 2,300 vehicles—subject to city approval and rezoning from industrial-commercial to neighborhood-commercial. (For comparison, Northgate Mall is about 1 million square feet and has some 6,000 parking spaces.)

The deal, which is in environmental review, provides Goodwill with condominiumlike stewardship of 120,000 square feet in new educational, retail, and warehouse facilities. In exchange, TRF will be given control of the property, valued conservatively at $20 million.

Sounds like a win-win, right? Not for everyone. Earlier this month, the Vietnamese-American Economic Development Association (VEADA) began a signature drive among Little Saigon merchants and residents in opposition to the Goodwill redevelopment, citing traffic and compatibility issues in an area that is quickly becoming one of the city’s most surprising, organically growing small-business districts. “Essentially, it’s a suburban mall dressed up in a spiffy urban outfit,” VEADA Executive Director Quang Nguyen says of the project.

VEADA has collected more than 600 signatures, with a goal of 2,000. “It’s not in sync with what the neighborhood has been planning for a long time,” says Nguyen. “With Chinatown, we’ve been working on a neighborhood plan that tries to encourage transit-oriented development, and this project is certainly not transit-oriented. It’s auto-oriented and big-box retail. The arterials are already pretty congested, and if you add this extra element, you’re just going to clog up the streets, and it’s going to make our customers less likely to go to our business district.”

Counters Vange: “The city is reviewing our traffic study right now, and I do not believe traffic will be a problem. Where we do affect the behavior of intersections, we’re required to mitigate it, which we will do by redesigning intersections, widening streets, adding turn lanes, etc.”

Vange adds that he has presented a plan to VEADA outlining the new development’s intent to promote and offer space to existing small businesses.

Meanwhile, Goodwill Seattle CFO Michael Jurich is confident that the process is still fluid enough for all sides to come away satisfied. “We’ve had a number of community meetings and feel we have a good relationship with VEADA,” says Jurich. “Their concerns are concerns which we’re hopeful the developer and they can work out so this project is good for all the community.

“As a nonprofit, we don’t have a lot of capacity to spend tens of millions of dollars on new facilities,” says Jurich. “We were in a fortunate position that our forefathers had bought this property, so for years we’ve been trying to address our long-term facility needs by leveraging the value of this property. It turned out to be a fabulous plan from our perspective. We’ll have about a 20 percent increase in job training capacity with the new facility.”

“Obviously, this is an opportunity for us; otherwise we wouldn’t be doing it,” acknowledges Vange. “But this is also a fabulous opportunity for Goodwill to get new facilities for the future so they can continue to expand their mission of job training and education.”