Asian-theme center planned for west Mesa
The Arizona Republic
May. 6, 2006

Jim Walsh
Demographics look good for Mekong Plaza

The Southeast Valley's growing Asian population is starting to play an important role in the redevelopment of west Mesa.

A Sacramento developer cited the Asian community's emergence in proposing Mekong Plaza, a major redevelopment project at Dobson Road and Main Street.
A closed Target store will turn into an Asian-theme shopping center, with a large Asian supermarket and a variety of restaurants and shops.

Philip Ta, the developer, said many Asians are selling their homes and businesses in southern California, fleeing the high cost of living for the Valley's cheaper real estate prices.

"We made a few studies of the area. The population is growing as far as the Asian community," Ta said.

Mekong Plaza will be a 100,000-square-foot indoor mall, anchored by a 45,000-square-foot Asian market, he said. It will also feature national chains that are not Asian-related, including coffeehouses and sandwich shops.

"This is not only for the Asian community. This is for the whole community,"
Ta said.

The project is named after the Mekong River, which runs through China, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, he said. Groundbreaking is anticipated in about three months, with the plaza opening in about a year.

An Arizona Republic analysis confirmed the demographic trend, with one-fifth of Maricopa County's Asian and Pacific Islander population living within a five-mile radius of Dobson and Warner roads in Chandler, according to 2005 estimates from Claritas, a marketing research firm.

The analysis also shows that 16.3 percent of Asians and Pacific Islanders in the county live within a five-mile radius of Dobson and Southern Avenue, and
13.8 percent live within five miles of Dobson and Broadway Road.

"We're not going to gear toward that, but I understand a lot of our tenants are Asian and Vietnamese," Ta said. "We've had a very good response from existing businesses in California."

Mekong Plaza's Web site says 60 percent of the shops are rented. It also touts a marketing slogan, "Where Arizona Shops Asian."

Mike Nguyen, 27, said he opened the Dragonfly Vietnamese Kitchen at Southern and Dobson 1 1/2 months ago. The Vietnam native's family immigrated to Iowa in 1992 and Nguyen moved to Mesa five years ago.

"I think slowly but surely, there will be a Vietnamese community here,"
Nguyen said. "We have quite a few people moving here from California."

Penny Lau, 21, an Arizona State University student who work as server at nearby Best Hong Kong Dining, said the market for Asian cuisine and other businesses is saturated in California, and Arizona represents a better opportunity.

He said the Lee Lee Oriental Supermarket in Chandler and the Chinese Cultural Center in Phoenix are big draws for the Valley's Asian population.

"If we have one more place in Mesa, it would be popular. I have one more place to go," Lau said.

He said the large number of Asian students attending ASU likely would ride the Valley Metro light rail to Mekong Plaza, near the end of the line.

Wendera Phung, a student adviser at Mesa Community College, said the school sponsored Asian Cultural Month to break down stereotypes about Asians.

He said many Korean and Chinese students attend MCC as a first step to learn English before they enroll at ASU.

"I think it's definitely growing," he said of the Asian community. "I see a lot of Asian students coming to MCC."