Dan Hust | Democrat
Thompson Town Board members look over a glossy brochure illustrating the concepts of China City of America. Closest to the camera is Deputy Supervisor Richard Sush, followed by councilmembers Peter Briggs, Sharon Jankiewicz and Scott Mace.
Story by Dan Hust
MONTICELLO May 17, 2013 A thousand homes. Fifty-six “ethnic villages.” Two hundred fifty hotel rooms. Nearly 5 million square feet of commercial space. And a year-round amusement park.
That’s the $6 billion plan for more than 2,000 acres spanning Route 17 between Rock Hill and Wurtsboro Hills, announced Wednesday at a presentation to the Thompson town, zoning and planning boards.
“We already have the land under contract,” China City of America Chairman and CEO Sherry Li told a packed Thompson Town Hall that evening.
Utilizing property once slated for a massive housing development surrounding County Route 56 on the Thompson/
Mamakating border, Li and company plan to re-create portions of famous Chinese cities and landmarks.
Historical buildings from 16 Chinese dynasties would be key attractions, but the complex would feature both Chinese and western architecture, all on taxable property, Li added.
It might also include a casino, though Li indicated she’d be happy to feed off the nearby Concord racino, if built.
“We can succeed with or without a casino,” she said, predicting 1.5 million visitors a year regardless.
Saying she chose Sullivan County because of its natural beauty, Li explained that the idea is to attract both domestic and foreign tourists, residents and investors.
Indeed, the plan is predicated on outside investment Chinese, in particular through a federal immigration program. Known as “EB-5,” the program encourages foreign investment on U.S. soil by promising visas (green cards) to immigrants who invest at least $500,000 in an American-based project ($1 million in urban and suburban areas).
Li’s plan is to offer such opportunities to Chinese families interested in having their children attend the complex’s private school and then an American university. She said she’s in the final stages of gaining federal approval to do so.
As a condition, said Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development President/CEO Allan Scott, the government requires each half-million-dollar investment to create at least 10 American jobs.
Li is predicting up to 3,000 new jobs, but whether this ambitious plan will proceed beyond the conceptual phase remains to be seen.
“Next we’ll be asking, ‘Who would you like us to work with to develop timelines?’” said Ken Ellsworth of the Binghamton engineering firm of Keystone Associates.
“Dick McGoey,” Thompson Supervisor Tony Cellini replied, speaking of the town’s engineer.
The same will likely be done with Mamakating, as the amusement park and part of the residential/commercial aspects will be located in that township.
Mamakating Supervisor Harold Baird said his town, planning and zoning boards will host a similar public meeting with China City officials this coming Thursday at 6 p.m. at the town hall in Wurtsboro.
“I think we’re all in the learning stages,” Baird assessed. “I see good and bad.”
He liked the effort to bring business to the county (Li indicated both American and Chinese companies will be sought, with a “large” Chinese company already signing a letter of intent).
But he also worried about the traffic implications, especially along Yankee Lake, on whose north side the amusement park is planned.
“They need a good traffic study,” he suggested.
His Thompson counterpart also saw good and bad.
“It’s pretty aggressive,” acknowledged Cellini. “It’s large, but I think we can deal with it.”
Scott said the company has been active in the area for some time (Li indicated this has been in the works for a year and a half), and the Partnership is working with its leaders.
“Anything that has the promise for investment in Sullivan County is a good thing,” Scott remarked, “... bearing in mind that it’s a substantial buildout period.”
Cellini promised the town will work with China City, though it has many more hurdles to pass.
“It’s a $6 billion project,” he said. “We just can’t turn our backs on it.”
For more of the concept, see www.chinacityofamerica. com.