America Could Get Its Own 600-Acre 'Chinese Disneyland'

Complete with theme parks and a whole new college.

The Catskills, in upstate New York, are known for their natural beauty and quaint lifestyle. But they could become a lot flashier, thanks to one businesswoman's proposal for the area: a multibillion-dollar "China City of America," complete with an amusement park, mansions, a casino, retail centers, a college, and more.

Sullivan County, New York by Doug Kerr on Flickr.

Creator Sherry Li says the plan would attract domestic and foreign tourists, residents, and investors. Back in May, she introduced her concept to Thompson, a town of 15,000 people 90 miles north of New York City. At that initial council meeting, she spoke of the 3,000 jobs that would be created and emphasized the development's family attractions - Chinese Zodiac themed areas, buildings and rides that correspond with 16 different Chinese dynasties.

A conceptual image of China City

More recently, she's scaled back her plans. Her new proposal, which the town council will review later this month, downsizes "China City" from 2,000 to 600 acres. It emphasizes the college, dorms, sports arenas, and performance centers. The amusement park would, in theory, come later.

Li says she has investors lined up for the initial investment of $325 million, mostly Chinese nationals. She plans to draw $6 billion more in foreign investment through "EB-5," the federal program that offers visas to foreigners who invest $500,000 in the U.S. The idea is to offer these visa opportunities to Chinese families who'd want their children attending the complex's school. This component of the plan is currently under consideration by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.

A conceptual image of China City

Supporters say the project could be a financial and cultural stimulus to the under-employed rural town. But Thompson Town Supervisor Tony Cellini worries the scale means incoming Chinese people could eclipse the local population. He told the New York Post, "We're not certain we have the infrastructure to handle all that at this point." David North of the Center for Immigration Studies wrote a comprehensive take-down of "China City," criticizing the project's potential for environmental disruption, dubious promise of job creation, and possible role as a stalking horse for the Chinese government.

Still, recent trends suggest there could be demand for this kind of development. According to a Nielsen report, the U.S. Asian American population grew at a rate of almost 58 percent between 2000 and 2013 - nearly five times the growth of the overall population. Asian American households spent almost 20 percent more in 2012 than the average household, and they overwhelmingly opt for culturally sensitive media and services. There are also record numbers of Chinese students enrolling in American schools.

This idea is nothing new to Connecticut casinos like Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, which have been offsetting recession-driven losses with aggressive investments in Chinese gamblers. Dedicated areas for popular Asian games, "casino buses" making daily trips from the Chinatowns of the Northeast, and extravagant Chinese New Year programming are all part of the allure.
 
A look at Foxwoods offerings that cater to Chinese guests. (screenshots via the Foxwoods Chinese-language site

A "China City" of sorts would do all that on a much bigger scale.

All images via China City of America 

About the Author