Toledo Mayor Mike Bell stands atop the Empire Building in Shenzhen, China.
THE BLADE/IGNAZIO MESSINA
SHENZHEN, China — Mike Bell was standing — literally — high above this busy coastal Chinese city directly on top of all the proof he needs that Dashing Pacific Group Ltd. has the know-how to make Toledo’s Marina District work.
Mr. Bell, his parents, and the Toledo trade mission delegation of about a dozen in China for nine days were treated on Friday to a visit to the top of Shenzhen’s Empire Building — a lime-green glass building developed by Wu Kin Hung, the same man who apparently is still interested in buying the Marina District.
“I was here before and I was trying to explain to people back home how much the representatives of Dashing Pacific had done, but trying to make people understand that is a difficulty,” Mr. Bell said on the building’s rooftop. “This building he did is almost a minicity in itself, so questions of whether he can do this project — what we are proposing in the Marina District — are some of the things that Mr. Wu and Ms. Yuan have already done.”
Mr. Wu and Yuan Xiaohong, the two investors behind Dashing Pacific, which has purchased The Docks restaurant complex from the city for $2.15 million, have been at the mayor’s side for much of his first two days in China.
The three enjoyed the view standing close to the edge of the building, which towers over Shenzhen as one of the city’s tallest with 69 stories. In Chinese the building is known as “Xin Xing” or “Shun Hing Square.”
The 83-degree heat and high humidity of the city next to Hong Kong in eastern China baked the delegation on the rooftop, even before lunch.
Mr. Wu, who was trained as a civil engineer at a University in Guangzhou near Shenzhen, said the building took just four years to complete.
“I was the general manager for this whole thing,” he said through a translator. “The speed on construction of this building was building every story in three days, so we broke the record in the 1990s in terms of speed in the height a building rises.”
Ms. Yuan, who is originally from inner Mongolia in the northern region of the country, but has a home in Shenzhen, said there is the same potential for Toledo.
“One day, we can see this along the Maumee River,” she said.
Ms. Yuan’s given name has previously been spelled with an “a” at the end by her U.S. attorneys. Ms. Yuan said yesterday her given name has been misspelled in the legal documents to buy The Docks. She also has used Tina as a westernized given name.
Shenzhen has had explosive growth the past three decades in part because of special development zones created by the Chinese government.
“Thirty years ago, do you see that little pond there?” Mr. Wu said pointing down to a rice field and fishing dock, across from the city limits of Shenzhen in Hong Kong. “That is what this city was like 30 years ago.”
Delegation member Dean Niese, chief operating officer of the Mannik & Smith Group, said Toledo could learn from the growth in Shenzhen.
“Obviously, Toledo is not a farming village like Shenzhen was at one point with a few thousand people, but Toledo can learn to redevelop itself through good economic development policy and creating excitement throughout the community,” Mr. Niese said.
The mayor first met Mr. Wu and Ms. Yuan, who are friends and business partners, during his first trade mission to China in September, 2010.
“When Mayor Bell visited the city called Ordos in Mongolia, he was very impressed with some of the structures, and I said if I got a chance I could build a much better city in five years,” Mr. Wu quipped.
“Last year when Mayor Bell was here, this building over there was not even in existence,” he said, pointing to another nearly complete skyscraper.
Simon Guo, the group’s translator, produced a copy of a book written by Mr. Wu.
“In Mr. Wu’s book, he talks about the technical difficulties, government bureaucracy,” he said, to which Mr. Bell responded with a smile, adding, “I know that. I know all about that.”
The Marina District project seemed to be derailed in April when, soon after Dashing Pacific offered $3.8 million to buy the property, the investors then withdrew the offer for the 69-acre parcel. Some on Toledo City Council tried to require union contractors for site development.
Councilman Joe McNamara, who was asked by the mayor to go to China but then told by the Regional Growth Partnership that no one else could be added to the delegation, yesterday said the Dashing Pacific deal could likely be resurrected.
Mayor Bell has praised Shenzhen as an example to be followed.
It is one of the most populous and richest cities in China. Skyscrapers line the skyline from east to west. But even though the city has apparent great wealth from development that exploded after an introduction of capitalist-style economics about 30 years ago, like most major cities, Shenzhen has a dirty underbelly. The poor in some neighborhoods are crowded into small apartments with jail cell-like bars enclosing balconies, where tattered laundry lays flat along the rusted metal.
The Toledo delegation was equally wowed by the city’s immense downtown and large buildings as it was by the stark contrast provided by the poorer neighborhoods.
Contact Ignazio Messina at: email@example.com or 419-724-6171.