|By Kristi Arellano, The Denver Post|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
June 11, 2004 - Seven golf courses and five ski slopes lie nestled among picturesque lakes and mountains.
Themed villages -- including a hot springs resort and an "ecotherapy" center -- dot the landscape. There's a bustling industrial development, an "English town" -- even a Universal Studios-esque media complex.
Welcome to the future of JeCheon City, where officials are launching a sweeping tourist and business development that will raise the profile of the central South Korean city of 150,000.
And welcome to the world of Charles Choi.
From his home-based office in Lakewood, Choi, a prominent architect and land planner, directs one of South Korea's most ambitious government-driven economic development projects.
Choi was handpicked by city officials to guide the project, which, by some estimates, will cost a staggering $10 billion and take 15 to 20 years to complete. He has assembled a team composed largely of Colorado executives that is helping the city turn its economic development dream into reality.
"This is a labor of love," said Bill Marino, managing partner with Trippe-Marino, a Lakewood- based branding and communications firm. Marino, a former real estate developer who serves with Choi on Lakewood's planning board, is part of the five-member project team Choi has assembled.
The group also includes Andrew Song, a commercial and retail broker and property manager who has served as president of the Korean- American Society of Colorado; Allen Gerstenberger, former community development director for Vail; Kiyoshi Murata, co-founder of Denver-based M+O+A Architectural Partnership; and Larry Zarker, a Maryland-based planning and marketing consultant.
Choi also has tapped Douglas County-based engineering giant CH2M Hill to serve as a supporting consultant.
The group has made multiple trips to Korea and hosted a Korean delegation in Lakewood. So far, group members have volunteered their time, but they expect to complete a deal that will allow them to be compensated for their efforts within the next few weeks.
"We all have so much respect for Charles. If this is important to him, it's important to us," Marino said.
The group is overseeing a project that's as fluid as it is grandiose.
JeCheon City officials and economic leaders envision a series of seven themed villages comprising as many as 30,000 acres scattered around the city.
Choi was appointed master developer of the project by JeCheon City Mayor Um Tae-Young in November.
Construction on the industrial complex started before Choi's involvement in the project. That portion of the project is already 40 percent leased.
Now that Choi is overseeing things, his group is reviewing the goals of the project and expects some of the village concepts to change. For example, the hot springs resort and ecotherapy complex might be combined into a single project, Marino said. Ecotherapy is based on the emerging field of ecopsychology, which looks at the relationship between people's mental, emotional and spiritual health.
The group expects the ski and golf resort to be the next to be developed. That project, which is intended to capitalize on the city's lake and mountain geography, is to include five ski slopes, seven golf courses, hotels and condominiums.
City officials envision the area as a year-round tourist destination and economic driver for the city. They hope that the country's switch from a six- to a five-day work week will provide residents with more time to travel. The city also is preparing for two major highway projects that will make JeCheon City more accessible.
According to JeCheon City's economic development publications, the ski and golf project is expected to cost $822 million. JeCheon City leaders are banking on private investment for the project but expect to support it through subsidies or other economic incentives.
Choi defines his role with the project as guiding the development to see that it is both economically and environmentally sound. As master developer, nothing can be built without his approval.
But the project isn't just another business deal for Choi. It also represents a chance to come full circle.
A Korean native, Choi and his family fled Korea during the Japanese occupation. He and two sisters eventually came to United States, where Choi was educated. He became a prominent architect and developer, at one time running an international firm, Architects and Planners International, with four offices worldwide.
Choi, who is also the planner for a 565-acre development called the Grand Preserve at Saddleback Mountain in Clear Creek County, was selected for the JeCheon City project in part because of his international reputation as an architect and planner. But he was also chosen because of his roots.
He is the great-grandson and oldest living descendent of the Rev. Choi Byung Hun, founder of the Korean Methodist Church. Known as Taksa, he is a prominent Korean historical figure. He is widely credited with writing the Korean national anthem and advocating for education.
Choi has committed the profits from his involvement in the JeCheon City project to fund the Taksa Foundation and Taksa Institute, founded to promote the translation and study of Taksa's scholarly writings.
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