Aurora’s development takes off as a growing hub for Asian businesses

35 miles west of Chicago’s Chinatown, an emerging Asian-themed lifestyle hub in Aurora is fast becoming a hub for Asian business.

The vision of Chinese-American real estate developer Eddie Ni to revive the 360,000-square-foot former Yorkshire Plaza in the eastern part of the city creates the largest hub of Asian-chic lifestyle in the country. It would provide a one-stop destination for shopping, food, business, services, leisure and entertainment – a model that can be replicated in other urban markets, Ni said.

Pacifica Square Mall, informally known as “Suburban Chinatown,” is located west of Route 59 and north of East New York Street across from Fox Valley Mall. It includes Asian-centric retail stores and restaurants serving a variety of cuisines, an Asian supermarket with a food court, a Buddhist meditation center, a church, and dozens of other beauty businesses. visitors, pet care, health and fitness, education and entertainment needs.

The center was more than 50% vacant when Ni and more than 20 other investors bought the property for $ 18 million in 2018. While some national chains – Best Buy and Planet Fitness – have remained, other anchors like Pier 1 Imports, Mattress Firm and Golfsmith Sporting Goods have closed in recent years.

Last month, the center welcomed eight new Asian-American-owned businesses: A Tasty Hot Pot, Aquarius Gift Shop, Chill’Axe Throwing Sports Bar, Gemini Foot Massage, Jennifer’s Hair Salon, Levee Karaoke, Pho Noodle Station and Value Liquidation Bin. This is in addition to the 15 new businesses that have opened in the past year, including a dozen in February for the Chinese New Year.

Several other businesses, including chains and Chicago Chinatown staples like Strings Ramen Shop and Veggie House, are slated to open this summer.

“We recruited 30 new tenants,” said Ni, a Naperville resident and CEO of Windfall Group / Pacifica Square. “We’re trying to build the largest concentration of Asian businesses in the country. We’re (developing it) a little different from traditional Chinatown.”

Ethnic-themed malls are popular in urban markets with large Asian populations, such as the San Francisco Bay Area, Dallas, Houston, and Orlando.

According to the International Council of Shopping Centers, owners are adapting to changing demographics by adapting their commercial properties to attract consumers from China, India, South Korea and elsewhere in Asia.

Pacifica Square’s primary audience is the burgeoning Asian population in Naperville and Aurora – 19% and nearly 9% of those cities, respectively.

“Pacifica Square is creating a distinctive mixed-use community development along Highway 59, the most profitable commercial corridor for the city of Aurora and Naperville,” said Jan Zheng de Naperville, president of the Chinese American Association in Greater Chicago.

Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin said Ni and the Windfall Group had “revitalized” an underused shopping center.

“The second and third phases of development will continue to make it the largest Asian-themed mall in the country,” said Irvin, adding that the redevelopments of Pacifica Square and the Fox Valley Mall “allowed us to re-imagine how retail and residential can be integrated into the overall economic development plan of the city of Aurora. ”

Ethnic delights

Park to Shop, the flagship store of a Chinese supermarket chain, anchors Pacifica Square on the west side. The approximately 50,000 square foot grocery store, located in a former Burlington Coat Factory store, opened in July. It includes 12 restaurants in a food court located near the entrance.

The alluring smells of boiling crab, specialty teas, Hong Kong-style noodles, Korean fried chicken, and other delicacies float to welcome guests upon arrival.

The grocery aisles have an assortment of exotic goodies – sweet fermented rice, canned duck eggs, ginkgo nuts, and durian fruit – and a fresh seafood bar lets shoppers choose from live shellfish, mollusks and more. ‘other types of seafood.

“This store is great. It’s like the biggest Chinese market in Illinois,” said Yunjing Huang of Park Forest, who drives about an hour each way shopping there three times a month.

Atypical attractions

Among the businesses in the square is Value Liquidation Bin – a cross between a warehouse and a flea market – where people can sift through trash cans containing a variety of products that have been returned by customers of major retailers. Items can be purchased for as low as $ 1 and up to $ 10, depending on the day.

It’s a fun store to browse, said Nada Khan, 16, of Plainfield.

“There is a lot you can do here,” Khan said of the place.

Her family often does their shopping at the Park to Shop, and she and her friends frequent restaurants and stores a few times a month.

“There are a lot of people (who come) here my age (and) also students,” Khan said. “It’s really different … like the variety of shops. There aren’t a lot of Asian places here. You don’t have to be Asian to enjoy this place.”

Next phase

Ni and its partners have invested more than $ 10 million in the first phase of improvements, including work on the site, reorienting traffic, renovating facades and dividing buildings once occupied by large retailers into spaces. smaller commercials.

They plan to invest an additional $ 15-20 million in the second phase of development, which should start next spring and end by 2023. This will involve building around 53,000 square feet of flexible and modular spaces. to accommodate around thirty mixed uses. tenants. The shops will occupy the ground floor and the second level will house professional offices.

The next phase will bring more dining and entertainment options with outdoor seating, a place for live events, such as the Chinese Moon Festival, and a pedestrian-friendly landscaped environment. The new construction will be more modern, but the landscape will incorporate traditional Asian features, including solar-powered LED parking lanterns in the shape of a Chinese knot, symbolizing good fortune.

The development is expected to create more than 1,200 jobs for the state’s second largest city.

Chicago architect Cristal Zheng, formerly of Aurora, designed Pacifica Square to be a vibrant, multicultural mall, comprising different ethnicities of Asia with more contemporary architecture to attract younger shoppers.

Zheng previously worked for an international company that builds shopping malls and shopping centers. She said the outdoor retail concepts are popular with health-conscious millennials, providing an atmosphere of interacting with people.

“We want to create a community for Asians and also promote our Asian culture to the general public,” Zheng said.

Pacifica: the next phase of development will begin next spring

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