Leader Blues

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

TOP STORY >>Asian-themed mall part of revitalization

By JEFFREY SMITH
Leader staff writer

Downtown Jacksonville is being revitalized with a planned Asian-themed shopping mall at the Jacksonville Shopping Center and the construction of the new Esther D. Nixon Library.

The purchase of the Jacksonville Shopping Center on the 600 block of West Main Street could be completed by year’s end. Sue and Ray Khoo, owners of Unique Furniture, are buying the 130,000-square-foot property from MJMJ LCC, led by Mike Wilson, Jim Peacock and Jim O’Brian.

The Khoos plan to renovate and remodel the shopping center into Asian Town. Sue Khoo put the projected cost of the property and building renovations at around $6 million.

Wilson said, “We have an agreement (on the property) that will be closed, if it is closed, in January. The sale is tentative at this point. It is conditional until or unless ownership of the property changes hands.”

Remodeling on the shopping center began on a store previously occupied by That Little Flea Market.

Within two months, an Asian market will open. A specialty food store will have both Asian and Mexican products for sale.
Sue Khoo owned a grocery store 24 years ago.

Gradually, over the next two years, stores at the center will change. Khoo said she would give the current tenants time to help them find a new location in Jacksonville.

Khoo said, “I don’t want to make a store close and have them lose their customers. It’s important to help each other in business.”

Chambers Drug Store will remain at its location. Asian Town will have a park featuring a Zen garden, an Asian-style waterfall and a pagoda. The park will be between Unique Connection Center and a vacant Peppers Restaurant. A new restaurant will reopen at that location, she said.

Unique Connection will have entertainment from different countries and cultural exhibitions. Khoo plans for a food court inside the shopping center. Customers will be able to sample dishes from Chinese, Thai, Korean, Vietnamese and Japanese restaurants.

Across the street from Unique Furniture, construction is starting at the new Nixon library.

Supporting the new library with fundraisers is the first step in Sue Khoo’s plans to create a community of learning.
Khoo has received international support to help the new library.

“I deeply believe only education can change the whole world. It is a bridge with all different cultures. An education opens your mind. You can go to the library and learn,” Khoo said.

The building will be greener with a solar energy heating system complete with installation donated by Khoo’s friend, Su Fu Zhang. Zhang is owner of Tiangyin Wanlongyuan Technology Company, in Tiangsu, China. The solar energy company will install solar panels on the library as part of the roof structure.

While on a business trip, Khoo met with officials at Key International Centre, a research and business consultation company in Tianjin, China. The company will donate 500 new books to the library.

The library is important to Khoo and her family. She said many parents use television as a babysitter and that TV teaches kids values that are different from their parents’. “A family is important, our kids need us as parents. A library is place to go for a family to grow together for a better life,” she said.

Khoo’s son, Jolli, was recently recognized for his high test scores on the Arkansas Comprehensive Test Assessment Account-ability Program.

“There are no bad children. They do not have the right guidance or knowledge between wrong or right,” Khoo said.

Along with helping with the library, Khoo wants to build a free education center where people can learn about different countries and cultures. The center would have classes teaching common knowledge for daily life, medicine, English for immigrants and would also offer tutoring on math.

“I am going to provide the space and location. Funding will come from out of pocket and my company. The school would accept private donations,” Khoo said.

She plans to build the learning center either near Unique Furniture or somewhere in Jacksonville.