OKC's Asian District Is Creating an Identity to Draw Tourists

Article excerpt

The Asian District, carved out of a section of Classen Boulevard, is a step closer to strengthening its own identity as a destination for visitors.

For little more than a year, city officials have worked with community leaders in the Asian District on an unofficial level to develop an area business association. Now, the group is one step closer to formalizing its ad-hoc organization and has approved bylaws.

Once nonprofit status is achieved, they hope to put together a board of directors and begin operations by the end of January.

The move could mean a strong marketing effort to identify the Asian District as more than just a place for ethnic restaurants.

Oklahoma City councilman Sam Bowman is credited with initiating the Asian District Planning Project - not only to develop a business district similar to that of Western Avenue, Automobile Alley and Bricktown, but to better market the area.

We get 5 million visitors a year and a lot of them don't know where the Asian District is or that we even have one, said city planner Bob Mier.

The group began promoting the area's identification with street signs that read Asian District along Classen Boulevard from NW 23rd to VW 34th streets. The group now is looking at land use policies for the area in hopes of promoting it as more of a pedestrian district.

The Classen streetscape project, with its $1.5 million price tag, is included in the next bond issue sale, which should take place in March. This will enable the group to begin the design phase of the project and start making necessary improvements.

Ba Luong, vice president of Super Cao Nguyen, said the entire community would benefit from creating a formal business district.

Right now there are about 20 Asian-style restaurants in the district. But restaurants are but a small part of the overall plan.

We're all going to work together to promote the Asian District and to promote not only commerce, but tourism within the Asian District to bring visibility to the area, Luong said. It was not very developed 15 to 20 years ago and there were run-down houses in the area.

Immigrants have come in and invested money into the district, he said. With the business association, we're trying to bring all of those efforts together and make it more effective.

Now that the bylaws have been adopted, the group awaits the approval of its nonprofit status.

This will allow us to take money and act as an official organization, Luong said of being a not-for-profit association. …