A VISION of a Sheffield Chinatown is being firmed up after almost five years in the planning.
As the local Chinese community prepares to celebrate the new year, hopes are rising that a 15m development can be created in the London Road area.
It is designed to include up to 20 restaurants, a casino, karaoke bar, shops, herbal doctors, a training centre for chefs, flats and a bank but the focal point would be a business centre to help boost the city's economic links with China.
The centre would include accommodation for small businesses and conferences and provide a platform from which to attract Chinese investment, working with other agencies.
Already Sheffield is signing a 'sister agreement' with Chengdu in south west China, with the council looking to forge relationships with one of the fastest growing economies in the world.
City businessman Jerry Cheung said: "We have got a product we can market. The whole rationale is that it has to be something good for the city, it has to provide investment and jobs and it has to be good for the community."
Sheffield's Chinatown concept was unique, he said, adding up to much more than a collection of restaurants.
"It's a dream but we want to make it happen. The project has to be commercially viable – investment has to generate a reasonable return."
Mr Cheung, who is a regular visitor to China, said there was already one potential investor. "15m isn't megamoney to some Chinese businessmen. But we have got to work very hard to make the business case."
The idea of a Sheffield Chinatown has been in the air for years –- one was once planned in Attercliffe. Mr Cheung has been driving forward his ambitions for almost five years, focusing on the London Road area where many restaurants are based, providing a living for some of the city's 10,000-plus Chinese population.
He said it was a "passionate hobby" but believes progress is now being made thanks to widespread support among the Chinese community, including its professional sector, and the drawing up of plans, including the Sheffield China Business Centre, which comprised a sound financial product.
"When I started I never dreamed I could get this far."
Mr Cheung also points to support from the council, Chamber of Commerce, the Sharrow community and universities, which would be crucial to get the project off the ground.
It is hoped that the Sheffield Chinatown would become a tourist attraction but it is being driven by practical considerations.
Accommodation is planned for elderly Chinese people who currently live alone and a chefs' training centre is designed to address a shortage of staff in restaurants.
The restaurants in the development in the London Road area – the exact location is not being revealed at this stage – would extend to other cuisines such as Thai and Japanese.
"Chinatown is a focus; it is not just for the Chinese," said Mr Cheung, who owns the Simply Chinese chain of restaurants, chaired the local appeal to help earthquake victims in Sichuan and is chairing the new year celebrations in Sheffield.
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