Chinatown project moves forward in Morrisville

kjahner@newsobserver.comOctober 6, 2013 

— Footsteps often echo off vacant storefronts at Prime Outlets in Morrisville. But on Sunday, the food court area was the scene of a celebration as planners of a new Chinatown concept for the mall hope for busy days to follow.

Developers laid out plans for the mostly abandoned outlet mall across Interstate 40 from the airport, plans which include restaurants, a supermarket, retail and office space, and a potential hotel and convention center.

“This is a unique place. This is the only place in the U.S. or Europe (that will have an) under-one-roof Chinatown that provides a lot of parking,” said Kelly Yeung, managing partner for FK & Partners, which bought the property for $12 million in June. “We really want to make this place successful. We want to take our time and do what is right,” he added.

Yeung, who lives in Florida, said the site will offer merchandise from Asia that is not available in other locations, and it will also serve as a cultural and economic hub. At Sunday’s lunch event, artist renderings sat on display, depicting a heavily renovated facade that features Chinese architecture.

Yeung’s business partner for the project is Fanny Cheuk, who lives in Hong Kong and is the CEO of Intexact Group Holdings. Cheuk attended the event as well and said the location was attractive for many reasons, such as the Triangle’s economic growth, proximity to the airport and Research Triangle Park, and a significant Asian community.

The first-phase renovations of the mall will cost in the neighborhood of $20 million, according to Matthew Lau of FK & Partners. Lau said plans could be submitted to Morrisville for approval in roughly three months. The hotel and convention center in phase two would consist of a substantially larger investment.

Cheuk said the developers have started a dialogue with Marriott about building a hotel on the property. The large Chinese wholesale market Yiwu will also visit in about two weeks to explore the possibility of opening a supermarket at the site. And UNC Health Care has already leased 40,000 square feet in space from the new owners to train staff on its new electronic medical records system.

Yeung said he hoped to have both upscale restaurants as well as food-court options open as soon as possible, with Chinese, Thai and continental options. Plans also call for the presence of a health service provider, including acupuncture.

Plans for any construction have yet to be sent to the Town of Morrisville. Town council members at the event expressed excitement about the enterprise.

“I see this being a very exciting project for Morrisville and the region,” Councilman Steve Rao said. “This is the right use of this type of facility.”

Rao praised the concept, as well as the collection of “global talent” developing the site. He said the project was a good leveraging of local diversity and talent, and it could possibly help to draw other Asian companies to RTP.

Lau said the developers want to be sensitive to the Morrisville area.

“We are also looking for feedback from the community,” Lau said. “All of us are really outsiders. We’re not just going to do what we think is best without input from the community.”

Jahner: 919-829-4822; Twitter: @garnercleveland

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