The plan to convert a largely empty Morrisville mall into the Triangles version of Chinatown appears to be coming to fruition.
A deep-pocketed investment group that includes investors from the U.S., Hong Kong and mainland China has acquired the Prime Outlets mall near Raleigh-Durham International Airport and expects to unveil detailed plans for the property early next month.
Those plans will be similar to the $130 million project that was first presented in early 2012, said Lian Xie, president of the Carolina China Council, who has been working on the project for more than two years.
Its pretty much the same vision, he said.
Earlier plans called for the mall to be converted into a structure with distinctive Chinese architecture that would make it an instant landmark for those flying into the region. The retail space is to be anchored by an Asian grocery store and a Chinese cultural center, along with retail shops and fine-dining restaurants.
We want to have a high-end place modern, also with some traditional flavor for Chinese-related shops and restaurants and cultural activities for people to go and visit and have fun, Xie said.
There are also plans for a hotel and conference center to eventually be built on the 24-acre property.
Xie said the first phase will involve renovating the 192,000-square-foot mall. That work is expected to begin later this year, following an official ribbon cutting on Oct. 6.
The malls conversion to Chinatown is an unlikely turn for Prime Outlets, which when it opened in the early 1980s was among the first centers to offer goods at below-retail prices. But the property, despite its central location just off Interstate 40, has struggled in recent years.
Only about 30 percent of the malls retail space was occupied in February, according to Karnes Research.
The new owners have leased about 40,000 square feet to UNC Health Care, which beginning Oct. 1 will use the space to train staff on its new electronic medical records system. The restaurants still operating in the malls food court are also expected to remain open in the near-term while other sections are renovated.
The new owners appear to have plenty of money. The investment group paid $12 million for the mall in June, according to Wake County property records. That price is steep, considering that the mall is generating little income and the seller paid just $6.2 million for the property in 2006.
Funding the deal
The money for the Chinatown project is coming from two main groups, Xie said.
One is led by Hoi Sang Yeung, a Florida businessman whose company International Restaurant Management Group operates more than 200 restaurants in 29 states and seven countries, according to its website. The group has developed such brands as Kellys Cajun Grill, Yeungs Lotus Express, Suki Hana, Chicken Connection and Tango Grill.
Yeung, who Xie said has restaurant partnerships in the Triangle, has already created a limited liability corporation in Florida with the name NC CHINATOWN.
The other investment group is led by Fanny Cheuk, a Hong Kong businesswoman who once worked for IBM in the Triangle, Xie said. Cheuk is a founder of Intexact Group, a conglomerate with experience in property development and management.
I know the Hong Kong group is planning to open some up high-end restaurants here, Xie said.
He said the new owners have already raised enough capital to complete the renovations of the mall. The group will likely raise additional funds to finance the hotel and conference center construction, Xie said.