A dozen of the tenants in the new development located inside popular dining and shopping alley Wenhua Xiang (or 'Culture Alley' in Chinese) are displaying bright red signs which state: "Investing here is extremely risky; investors please be extremely cautious."
Some tenants have gone further, hanging banners which accuse Kunming Foreigner Street developer Wuxin Realty of "maliciously trapping" tenants in a bad investment.
This is but the latest twist in the Kunming Foreigner Street saga. The plot of land was once a vibrant - albeit rundown - collection of homes, stores, bars and restaurants, including the first Pizza da Rocco. In 2005 the plot was razed and work began on the development, which was named after the popular Foreigner Street in Dali.
During its construction, the plot was surrounded by a wall of advertisements for the development featuring laughable English misspellings plus photos of beautiful Chinese women, well-dressed and inebriated foreigners and high-end developments including Shanghai's Xintiandi. Nearly a year later, a bright yellow and brownish-red behemoth was unveiled to an unimpressed public.
Many area residents were already upset with the development because of the tendency for noisy construction and deliveries of gravel, bricks, rebar and cement to take place as late as 3am. Rumors of loud nightclubs and karaoke bars moving in had also created a general wariness of what was to come.
Restaurants and shops began moving into Kunming Foreigner Street early this year, but more construction was necessary, as all the spaces were unfinished. This meant more noise for locals as tenants worked on finishing and adding onto the concrete boxes they were provided.
Once the majority of tenants had begun commercial operations, restaurants began offering sidewalk seating and also put carts selling foods including smoked meats and ice cream out on the sidewalk. The development was not equipped with any garbage disposal system, so tenants were left to dump their trash in the street, or more popularly, in front of the existing businesses closer to Wenlin Jie that had made Wenhua Xiang one of Kunming's more popular streets.
In late spring, more than 100 retired professors from Yunnan Normal University who live in a residential area behind Kunming Foreigner Street filed a petition with the local government asking for the development to be cleaned up. Shortly afterward, all outdoor seating was banned, and a trash removal system in the form of a man on a three-wheeled cart with a snow shovel were introduced.
The outdoor seating ban stung Kunming Foreigner Street's restaurants, many of whom were getting much of their business through sidewalk dining. Many tenants have cited Wuxin Realty's promise of outdoor seating rights as one of the main reasons they decided to gamble on what is some of the city's most expensive commercial real estate.
Now, feeling cheated and trapped, Kunming Foreigner Street's restaurants and shops are giving potential tenants dire warnings of the risks involved in the development. This episode is a good example of the palpable tensions between developers, tenants, area residents and the local government. We're not property experts, but it seems passing some rational zoning laws plus strengthening and enforcing sanitation regulations would go a long way in this town.
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