The developers of Asia-Town, a Virginia Beach complex that would feature Asian-themed retail spaces and restaurants, is applying for a designation that would allow foreign nationals to invest in the complex and other projects in Virginia in exchange for green cards.
The Immigrant Investor Program - or EB-5 - allows foreigners to invest in certain projects in exchange for permanent residency.
Beach Development Group, which is spearheading AsiaTown at the corner of Holland Road and Warwick Drive, is applying for the designation for a region of Virginia, said Kathy Owens, president of Beach Development.
The proposed zone would be called the Virginia Atlantic Regional Center.
The Immigrant Investor Program began in 1990, under the federal immigration law.
In essence, the program rewards foreign investors with a green card who invest between $500,000 in an area that is rural or has a high unemployment rate to $1 million in other areas. The investment must put at least 10 people on a payroll.
Virginia is one of 10 states that do not yet have an E-B5 designation.
Beach Development Group's application encompasses a large swath of eastern and central Virginia.
Each regional center has specific industries that are allowed under the designation, such as restaurants, technology, retail and wholesale. The Virginia application is asking for approval for manufacturing, retail and restaurants.
There are 10,000 EB-5 green cards available each year - 3,000 of those are reserved specifically for those who invest their money through a regional center, rather than into individual projects.
However, since the program became law, it hasn't come close to 10,000 cards issued each year, Owens said.
The program does not require investors to directly employ the 10 workers. Instead, the investment has to directly or indirectly create the jobs.
The program is attractive to individual foreigners who want to establish permanent residency.
"A lot of them want it so their kids can go to school here and stay," she said. "The whole family can come over and get permanent residency."
Now that an application has been submitted, Beach Development can better court investors, owne said. She expects to hear by December whether the application is approved.
The concept of AsiaTown arose last year, when the Asian Association of Hampton Roads, in its inaugural meeting, announced a plan for an Asian-themed retail and office complex.
The association later announced that it was teaming with Beach Development Group to bring the project to life.
The company describes it as "a mix of upscale retail and office space, as well as up to four outparcels in a pedestrian-friendly layout with a modern Asian flair throughout."
Beach Development estimates that it will create 220 construction jobs and eventually employ up to 437 people.
Owens said a nail salon has signed a pre-lease and that several restaurants are looking into opening in AsiaTown.
By Bill Cresenzo