Pact signed to ‘preserve Japantown’

City officials have reached a pact with a developer to preserve the cultural character of two Japantown malls and a hotel whose sale had neighborhood residents worried about the demise of one of the nation's few remaining Japanese enclaves.

This week, Mayor Gavin Newsom's administration finalized a covenant with Los Angeles-based 3D Investments, which is in the process of purchasing the Kintetsu and Miyako malls and the Radison Miyako Hotel and the Best Western Miyako Inn from Kintetsu Enterprises Inc.

However, some Japantown residents criticized the covenant, saying it lacked “meat.”

The agreements calls for the developer to retain ownership of the Kintentsu and Miyako malls for 15 years, strive to maintain Japanese-themed stores, allow the community to use the malls for annual celebrations such as the Cherry Blossom Festival and contribute money to local community organizations, among other things. The covenant requires 3D to maintain the Japanese character of the Radisson Miyako Hotel and allow the community to use banquet rooms at discounted rates. The deal does not cover the Miyako Inn.

The City will have the power to enforce the covenant. In the event of a dispute over the covenant, for which the parties can’t negotiate a settlement, the dispute goes to a final binding arbitration.

The parties have not formally signed the agreement, but began distributing it to Japantown residents Thursday for review. They plan to hold a community meeting on the agreement in the coming weeks.

“The community stood and demanded there would be something real and in writing to preserve Japantown. This at least allows a foundation that we can build on,” Mayor Gavin Newsom said. “Hopefully, these covenants will give people

security.”

Japantown residents are anxious about the sale of the malls and hotels, along with the Kabuki 8 movie theater. Taken together, they represent most of the cultural and economic heart of the neighborhood, which has shrunk significantly in recent decades. Residents fear the sales will result in the final blow to the community, which along with Japantowns in San Jose and Los Angeles is one of only three in the United States.

“When they say these covenants preserve Japantown, I just don't get it,” said Paul Osaki, executive director of the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California. “There are so many holes in the [pact] itopens up questions about [3D's] intent in Japantown.”

Osaki said the agreement should have covered the Miyako Inn and required 3D to maintain the hotels as hotels. He said it should have also required a certain percentage of Japanese-themed stores in the malls, stipulated a 25-year holding period for the properties and an option for the community to have the first chance to purchase the properties if they go up for sale.

Representatives of 3D could not be reached for comment.

The sales come as Japantown is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Sundance Cinemas, a spinoff of Robert Redford's Sundance Film Festival, announced in March it is buying the Kabuki. It plans to show art house movies and continue the San Francisco International Asian-American Film Festival.

jjouvenal@examiner.comBay Area NewsLocal

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