North Miami - NMB

Chinatown in North Miami? Time for residents to weigh in.

A screengrab of the landing page for North Miami’s Chinatown website.
A screengrab of the landing page for North Miami’s Chinatown website. City of North Miami

More than a year after the plans to study a Chinatown in North Miami were approved, the city is hosting a community forum on the planned district.

The area, planned for a stretch of Northwest Seventh Avenue from 119th to 135th streets, has gained more support since it was first announced, but some residents are still asking the same questions about the district a year later: Why Chinatown and why North Miami?

“We have so many other things that we need to prioritize. Our water meters need to be updated, we have cracking sidewalks,” said Judy Brown, president of the Sunkist Grove homeowners association.

Residents will have a chance to ask those questions, discuss the master plan for the district and learn about the city’s next steps at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Joe Celestin Center, 1525 NW 135th St.

City leaders believe that the new designation will encourage development along Seventh Avenue, an area that has seen new fast food restaurants in recent years but is primarily lined with strip malls, churches and small businesses. North Miami plans to incorporate Chinese design and facade elements.

“If you put a facade with a dragon’s head across 119th Street and just say it’s Chinatown, that’s not a Chinatown,” Brown said.

Councilman Alix Desulme spearheaded the idea and traveled with a delegation of city leaders to China last May to participate in the graduation ceremony for Florida International University’s hospitality school campus in Tianjin, China, and to also meet with urban planners and other government officials in Tianjin, Beijing and Shanghai.

“I have lived here almost all my life. I have not seen any development on Seventh Avenue,” Desulme said at a previous council meeting.

The plan has evolved to include the city’s community redevelopment agency and the Fort Lauderdale consulting firm Keith and Schnars. In addition to the Chinatown designation, the city is considering more mixed-use development along Seventh Avenue. City leaders also plan to appoint a steering committee to aid the district’s development. It will include business owners, residents, Chinese consultants and real-estate experts.

If you put a facade with a dragon’s head across 119th Street and just say it’s Chinatown, that’s not a Chinatown.

North Miami resident Judy Brown

Demographics were also a cause of confusion when the area was first proposed, given the small number of Asian Americans in South Florida and particularly in North Miami. According to 2014 U.S. Census estimates, Asians make up 1.6 percent of Miami-Dade’s population and 2.2 percent of North Miami’s population. In the city, 139 people identified themselves as having Chinese ancestry.

City leaders have countered those numbers by pointing to the hundreds of Chinese students that have courses at FIU’s campus in North Miami, a number that’s bolstered by the partnership with the campus in Tianjin.

Still, some residents in the city’s District 4 — a primarily black and Hispanic area where Chinatown will be located — think the investment is not truly for the area’s longtime homeowners.

“They’re using the [community redevelopment agency] to really help another community,” attorney Ron Cordon said. “That money could be used to put a police substation there.”

The master plan process could take up to six months. The plan, once finalized, would require city council approval before being implemented.

Lance Dixon: 305-376-3708, @LDixon_3