Lee Sung-man is president of Songdo American Town. Lee's company, created by Incheon Free Economic Zone Authority, has been engaged in creating the Songdo American Town, a large-scale complex for Korean-Americans who want to come back and settle in Korea. The first phase of the project was completed in October last, with 830 units of apartment, 125 units of "officetel" or a studio apartment, and 113 stores all sold out. Encouraged by this success, Lee's company is now promoting the second phase of the project, which consists of 498 units of apartment. 674 units of officetel and about 20,000 square meters of commerical facilities. Lee is confident that the second stage will also succeed as he has confirmed increased interest in it among real estate agents in the United States. The following are excerpts from a recent interview with Lee. -- Ed.
Would you explain what the Songdo American Town project is all about?
The official name of the project is the Songdo Korean American Village Development project, which is designed to provide a large-scale settlement space for Korean-Americans who want to return to their fatherland. This project will create an opportunity for Korean-Americans to create a new culture in their fatherland and contribute to Korea’s economic development.
What is the purpose of creating a private residential complex for Koreans who lived abroad in Songdo?
A: Koreans’ immigration to the United States started when 102 Korean migrant workers left Jemulpo Harbor in Incheon in 1903 on the first immigration merchant ship Gallic to work at sugar cane farms on Hawaii. They achieved their American dreams as a minority after overcoming all kinds of adversity and hardship in the land of opportunity. Now, 112 years later, they are coming back in glory to Songdo, Incheon. This project is aimed at honoring Korean-American immigration history through the creation of a Korean-American town and creating a settlement complex for them in Korea.
Would you please tell us the characteristics of this complex?
A: The Songdo American Town Complex is very well located. The place is close to Campus Town Station of Incheon Subway Line 1. From the complex, it takes about 30 minutes to go to Incheon International Airport and about one hour to the Gangnam area in Seoul via the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Seoul-Incheon Expressway and the Incheon Gimpo Expressway (2nd Outer Circulation Expressway). The recent opening of the First Songdo Bridge has reduced the travel time to Seoul and other areas.
In addition, the Songdo American Town Complex is close to Canal Walk, Hyundai Premium Outlet, Homeplus, Costco and Triple Street that accommodates movie theaters. Lotte Mall Songdo and Shinsegae compound shopping mall are also being built near the complex. The place has an excellent educational environment. It is close to the State University of New York, George Mason University, Kent University, the University of Utah, and the New York Fashion Institute (FIT) on the Incheon Global Campus and Chadwick International School.
What was the response from overseas residents during the recent explanatory sessions in three cities in the United States?
The explanatory sessions were a big success. The sessions drew 40 real estate agents from New York, 120 from Los Angeles and 50 from San Francisco. They got attention from local media and broadcasting stations and were reported 11 times by internet media outlets and eight times by newspapers and TV. In addition, new agents accounted for about 50 percent of the participants, showing that the second-phase project received much attention from real estate agents.
Would you tell us how the project is going now?
The first phase of the project has been successfully sold out. We began to make sales contracts in June 2013. We held a completion ceremony and an opening ceremony in October 2018. In addition, we have established the Settlement Support Department to steadily run settlement programs for residents. The second phase was approved by the Landscape Deliberation Committee of the Incheon Free Economic Zone Authority in September 2018. The U.S. explanatory sessions were successfully held in March 2019.
What contributed to the success of the first phase?
At the beginning of the project, we went through a lot of difficulties due to a slump in the Korean real estate market. But support from the Incheon Metropolitan Government and Incheon Free Economic Zone Authority helped us put the project back on track. I also think that many overseas Koreans’ longing and aspirations to return to their motherland were the most important factor that made the first phase of the project successful.
The second phase of the project has started. What are your expectations?
The success of the first phase has been fueling Korean-Americans’ interest in the second phase. It is well known that Songdo American Town is an environment optimized for overseas Koreans’ settlement in Korea. We expect the second phase to achieve a great success as its location is even better than the first phase complex.
How are you going to carry out marketing campaigns for the second phase?
This whole project is carried out by a special purpose corporation that was created with 100 percent investment by the Incheon Investment Fund, which was in turn established by Incheon Free Economic Zone Authority. This project is promoted for the purpose of providing convenient and comfortable residential space for overseas Koreans. We will provide residential support programs for residents of a 70-story apartment building, which will become one of Songdo's landmarks. We will emphasize that the complex is the best place for overseas Koreans to adapt to life in Korea.
The ultimate success of the project lies in whether residents adapt well to Korean society emotionally and culturally and live without feeling any sense of alienation. What programs are you preparing for their adaptation?
I think that the biggest goal of this development project is to ensure that overseas Koreans settle in their fatherland stably. Overseas Koreans are most concerned about emotional and cultural differences when they return to Korea after finishing their long overseas life. In January of this year, we launched the Settlement Support Department and expanded culture and experience programs and are preparing measures to operate settlement support facilities. Many of the agents who attended the explanatory sessions on the second phase in the United States showed great interest in the "Songdo American Town First Full Moon Day Festival" held in February. We will identify the needs of residents by conducting surveys on them and improve Songdo American Town through continuous communication with them.
Do you have any words to say to the Incheon Metropolitan Government or the central government?
We would like to ask for continued interest and support from Incheon City and Incheon Free Economic Zone Authority which actively made efforts for the establishment of the housing complex at the beginning of the project.
In the case of houses for foreigners, it is possible to pre-sell them as the government takes into consideration the difficulties in selling them in overseas markets. However, in the case of non-residential facilities (office buildings, neighborhood shops, hotels among others) located in the same residential complex, it is impossible to pre-sell them as they are subject to the Act on the Sale of Buildings. Therefore, there are difficulties in attracting foreign. An institutional improvement is needed to promote foreign investment attraction in free economic zones. I would like to ask for the central government’s cooperation for the promotion of housing complexes for foreign residents in Korea.