By Va-Megn Thoj, Asian Economic Development Association
May 9, 2013
An important milestone for the Little Mekong district was reached recently with the completion of three business improvements projects. The recipients of the improvements were Bangkok Thai Deli, 333 University Avenue; Ha Tien Grocery, 353 University Avenue; and May’s Building, 377 University Avenue, along with May’s seven tenants.
The projects total about $1.5 million, and included façade improvement, parking improvement, installation of energy efficient equipment and lighting, and complete remodeling and upgrading of interior layout.
Son Dao, owner of Ha Tien Grocery, specifically wanted to improve his business because he realized that the Green Line offers new opportunities. He scheduled his project to coincide with light rail construction when Ha Tien would be least busy with customers.
"I want to attract the new customers on the light rail," said Son Dao, owner of Ha Tien, who invested a substantial equity of his own to improve his building. "Improving my store will give my customers a more positive experience."
The three business owners were proactive, took the initiative and provided their own equity to invest in the improvements.
“These projects are a milestone because they demonstrate to other businesses that they should invest and improve their businesses on University Avenue, “ said Joo-Hee Popmlun, director of programs at the Asian Economic Development Association. “The message is that improving their business will impact their bottom line.”
Although it was important that the three businesses were motivated, these were complex expensive projects that could not have happened without the support of a coordinated effort to strengthen family-owned small businesses along the light rail Green Line.
The Asian Economic Development Association (AEDA) has been engaging extensively with these businesses and others in Little Mekong; counseling them to improve their businesses and get involved in decision making to prepare for light rail transit. Part of AEDA’s goals has been to implement placemaking principles to improve the physical aesthetics of the district to draw more visitors and Green Line riders.
The U7 program, coordinated by the Neighborhood Development Center, has also played a key role. NDC worked with Living Cities, the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative, and the City of Saint Paul to make available the necessary financial resources to support business improvements along the Green Line. With these resources in place, AEDA and U7 were able to assist the businesses with planning, design, financing, project bids, contracts, and project management to complete the projects.
“I couldn’t do the façade improvements myself,” said May Yang, owner of May’s Building and May’s Market. “U7 helped me get the loans. AEDA helped me with the design. They managed the whole project. It worked out well.”
As the businesses themselves realize, the improvements will position them to grow and thrive with light rail transit. Customer foot traffic has increased at all three locations since the improvements have been completed. Bangkok Thai Deli plans an addition to their kitchen to meet the increase in customers.
“I need two more woks and more kitchen space,” said Glan Yamthongkam, Bangkok Thai Deli’s chef and manager.
“The investment and partnership that made these improvement projects possible are critical for future economic development on the Green Line,” Joo-Hee Pomplun said.
Pomplun added that AEDA will continue to collaborate with partners and develop strategies to support small businesses, improve the physical assets of Little Mekong, and create more opportunities to expand businesses, housing, and jobs for the surrounding neighborhoods.