Friday, July 6, 2007

My Appeal to a Centerville Businessman

To describe my "Little Kabul + Centerville" vision, I recently sent the following (slightly modified) email to an important Fremont businessman:

Thanks for responding to my note and giving me a call. I enjoyed hearing you speak at the Centerville Business and Community Association (CBCA) breakfast. I spoke the previous meeting and it was interesting how you dovetailed without knowing what I said about developing a world-class tourist attraction. I am interested in hearing your insights about past ideas or attempts to develop a tourist attraction in Centerville.

I thought you might like a summary of what I shared to the CBCA. The main point is to transform Centerville and leverage the “Little Kabul” name in order to tap into the tourism market of the Bay Area. I am proposing radical renewal, a total transformation, utilizing the skills of companies like DreamWorks and Economic Research Associates. First let me give you some personal background.

Bridge Building has been going on for 4 ½ years now and has been well-received by the local Afghans. As a “bridge building facilitator,” I work on both sides of the culture gap, which is why I also spoke to the CBCA group. My ability to work well with Muslims comes from several years I spent in the Middle East as a tourism consultant in the mid-80’s located in Bahrain, near Saudi Arabia. That is how I became interested in Islamic cultures and it helped prepare me for what I do now in Bridge Building, but I still have an eye for developing tourism. That story is better told with pictures, so please see my slideshow [now located above, right side of this blog]. Without belaboring the point, if Bahrain would have listened to me in the 80’s they would be where Dubai is today as an international tourist attraction.

So much for background leading to my idea regarding developing Centerville into a major Bay Area tourism destination. You are a major property owner with deep roots and broad experience in the Fremont area, and I would value your feedback and consideration. The gist of the idea is summed up in the motto:

Little Kabul + Historic Centerville = Prosperity & Peace

I am well aware of the tension in the community regarding the fear of imposing the “Little Kabul” identity on the Centerville district. But I believe this is a false dichotomy, an unnecessary and unhelpful juxtaposition of Little Kabul versus Centerville. My challenge to the CBCA was to recognize that the hated “Little Kabul” name can be turned to an economic advantage for the area. Fremont should leverage the “Little Kabul” branding (invented by the media, not the local Afghans—although Afghans like it, of course). Astute business and community leaders should recognize that the “Little Kabul” identity can inspire a world class tourist attraction, and not at the expense of Centerville, in fact quite the opposite. My idea is for a binary-star tourist attraction, with the 6.5 acre “unified site” controlled by the city being developed into the brightest attraction with “Historic Centerville” being the second star of this binary-beautification. The Historic Centerville section would be developed along Fremont Blvd. south from the train Depot to (at least) the theatre. I told the CBCA group that no matter how they buff and shine the Centerville identity—and I’m all for showcasing it—by itself Centerville will never tap into the huge tourism market in the San Francisco area. Yet properly designed and marketed, “Little Kabul” can be the engine that pulls the Centerville economic train.

There is a convergence of several factors that make this binary-star tourist attraction possible:

  • Firstly, current US involvement with Afghanistan can bring the spotlight of positive global attention on this project. All humanity cries out for such positive models of peacemaking. The “peace” component of the above motto highlights this project as an example of how refugees can be welcomed as an asset within their host community. This is not a politically-correct anti-war concept of peace; instead “Little Kabul + Centerville” is a proactive model of positive peacemaking which transcends politics.
  • Secondly, potential investors were not inspired by past quaint mixed-use plans for the unified site. They know such tepid redevelopment will not lift Centerville out of the economic doldrums. Circumstances have forced the City of Fremont to go back to square one in thinking about this strategic site. You know all about this and spoke to this point yourself.
  • Thirdly, the City of Fremont is in the process of gathering community input for the updating of their general plan. This is a good time for visionary thinking. I attended two recent city-sponsored community meetings and planted the seeds of this vision.
  • Fourthly, Cal State University East Bay just installed Dr. Qayoumi as their new president, and I have shared this vision with him and he is now a champion of the concept. The university should be a partner in developing components such as a museum and historical diorama, and Qayoumi can collaborate with the government of Afghanistan for top exhibits and scholarly assistance.
  • Fifthly, the global success of the book, The Kite Runner by Khalid Hosseini is another factor that could be leveraged, especially considering Khalid’s connection with DreamWorks, the producer of the movie due to be released early November. Khalid can be the bridge to the decision-makers at DreamWorks. I talked with him briefly and gave him a DVD of my brief presentation at a City of Fremont general plan community meeting.
  • Sixthly, DreamWorks offers the creative expertise to develop some of the main components. Consider a 360º 3-D theatre with an original film overview of Afghanistan, flying over the mountains (icy wind blows on audience) to viewing a Buskashi game from the back of a horse on a thundering gallop (as the floor shakes). Or how about a 3-D topographical diorama of the Central Asian region with interactive history. Press a button to see the route of Alexander the Great; press another button for Ghengis Khan; press another one for more recent military history (Soviet defeat and Taliban battles), and so on.
  • Seventhly is the possible participation of Economic Research Associates, one of my affiliate companies from the 80’s, and the premier consultancy group involved for decades in global and regional tourist attractions and markets.

Those are some positive factors, but there are hurdles to overcome. In order to join hands with the Centerville business community certain questions must be answered. For example, when I spoke at the CBCA meeting there were several comments and questions raised. I tried to give them answers, but the best response will require further study and proper and legal answers. Here are some questions that deserve further study. I’m sure you have more, and can better refine these, but here they are for a start:

Question: Why is only one ethnic group being singled out for this honor? Answer: There is abundant opportunity within the “Historic Centerville” section to tell the stories of all the various ethnic groups that have blessed Centerville over the years. However, as important as these stories are, at the present time none of them have the potential to become a world-class tourist attraction like “Little Kabul.” There is also “The Globe” business development in South Fremont which provides more ethnic balance and business opportunity in the region.

Question: Will this provide an unfair business advantage to Afghans? Answer: “Little Kabul” will not be an Afghan-exclusive business zone. Ownership by the City of Fremont should ensure that a balanced opportunity will be provided to all qualified business partners and investors. Obviously, certain characteristics of Little Kabul will require Afghan partnership (restaurants, import shops, entertainment, etc.), but other components must be professionally managed by educational and creative institutions (museum, 360º theatre, diorama, etc.).

Question: Why is Centerville taking a back seat to Little Kabul? Answer: Centerville is like a mother that gave birth to a child prodigy. It is to Mom’s benefit to nurture the gifted child and in so doing honor and prosperity comes to the whole family. Afghan entrepreneurs came to Centerville because of the economic downturn in the 80’s; it was a hospitable business district because it cost less to get started. Centerville can now receive a great benefit from hosting Afghan refugees and become an example for the world to notice.

Question: Won’t utilizing historic Islamic architecture and design make it appear to be a religious site? Answer: Careful study needs to be done to design an inviting and hospitable appearance attractive to the broadest spectrum of the population and tourists. Correct marketing will be able to attract the curious as well as the cautious, to insure this will be a safe place to explore an exotic and distant land and culture. The primary emphasis will be on educational entertainment, with some fantastic eating and shopping opportunities.

Question: Isn’t 6.5 acres a small piece of property for such a big “world-class” vision? Answer: This must include more than just the unified site, but that would be the location for the star “Little Kabul” attractions. The whole commercial region needs to be involved—that is why there is a “Historic Centerville” section—and development will likely expand incrementally as success and prosperity happens. Centerville Presbyterian Church owns some adjacent land, and they recently moved some graves in the pioneer cemetery in anticipation of future development. I’ve even proposed building an attractive protective canopy over the cemetery in the form of a multi-storey parking garage.

Jennifer Andersen, the Centerville Redevelopment Project Manager, has a decent webpage: Centerville Redevelopment Projects. Jennifer told me that they will be accepting new proposals from qualified developers starting within the next few weeks. So these are the days to take action, when the proverbial “window of opportunity” is wide open. So I hope this concept is significantly different than the ideas that didn’t work in the past. May this vision stimulate your creativity as well as your informed guidance. As a primary landowner you have great influence and an unprecedented opportunity to revitalize Centerville, contribute to our homeland security, and profit in the process.

Bruce Green, Bridge Building Facilitator

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