Foreign investors sought for planned Chinatown North tower

CLEM MURRAY / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER From left: The Rev. Thomas Betz, John Chin, Ahsan Nasratullah and Andy Toy announce the partnership.
CLEM MURRAY / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER From left: The Rev. Thomas Betz, John Chin, Ahsan Nasratullah and Andy Toy announce the partnership.
Posted: February 21, 2014

THE PHILADELPHIA Chinatown Development Corp. announced a new partnership yesterday to help it finance a towering community center and apartment building that would change the landscape of Chinatown North.

The partnership with the Global City Regional Center, an entity created last year, is seeking foreign investors - from China, India, Bangladesh and other countries - to invest nearly half of the $75 million project.

Project leaders said yesterday that they plan to raise $33 million of the total cost through the federal EB-5 immigrant-visa program, which would allow qualified foreign investors to come to the U.S.

With the funding, PCDC aims to build its flagship Eastern Tower Community Center at the northwest corner of 10th and Vine streets, now the site of a parking lot.

The 23-story building would house retail stores, a community center, a gymnasium, a health center, a preschool, offices and 143 apartments - 31 of which will be subsidized by PCDC.

"Affordable housing is part of this project," John Chin, PCDC executive director, said at a news conference. "We have the recreation center. We're actually extending the 10th Street commercial corridor beyond Vine Street. And it increases the residential base in Chinatown."

Andy Toy, the project's managing director at PCDC, said he believes the $75 million project is the largest community-development project ever in Philadelphia serving the needs of poor and low-income residents.

Ahsan Nasratullah, CEO of the Global City Regional Center, said foreign investors would need to put up $500,000 each. Under the EB-5 program, administered by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the investor could then obtain a conditional green card to live here with his or her family (including a spouse and dependent children) for up to two years.

The investment needs to create or preserve at least 10 jobs for U.S. workers within two years of the person's admission into the U.S. If successful, the person and his or her family could then apply to remain here permanently.

To raise $33 million, Nasratullah said, 66 investors are needed. So far, five possible investors are actively considering financing the project, since the center's website (globalcityeb5.us) went up a week ago, he said.

He hopes to secure financing for the project over the summer. From there, construction of the Eastern Tower building could begin this fall. The tower is estimated to take two years to complete.

Nasratullah and his wife, who are from Bangladesh, have connections there and in India.

PCDC is a limited partner in the Global City Regional Center, one of 440 such centers across the nation approved by USCIS.

The EB-5 program has its critics. Some say it's a way for rich foreigners to buy their way into the U.S.

To that, the Rev. Thomas Betz, board chairman of PCDC, said, "There ought to be a way for all people of the economic spectrum to come here if they can produce something for our country that's going to be valuable."


On Twitter: @julieshawphilly

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