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Pacific edition, Wednesday, April 25, 2007

MISAWA, Japan — Misawa city officials hope if they build it, shoppers will come.

A plan to revitalize the downtown district near the base is aimed at bringing back shoppers who used to flock to the area when the yen was weak against the dollar and other shopping opportunities were limited.

American Village is taking shape with eight houses and 24 shops already rebuilt and more units to be finished by the Japanese fiscal year 2009, according to Misawa City Chamber of Commerce official Toshiyuki Baba.

The goal is to entice shoppers to return, said Misawa city’s American Village Promotion Section official Koichi Shindo. The shopping area, once filled with hustle and bustle, lies in the half-mile or so stretch from the base’s main gate.

But since Japan’s economic boom and the opening of department stores such as Jusco in neighboring towns, the shopping area has become stagnant, he said.

The village will spread out from a plaza planned outside the base’s main gate to neighboring shops, including a stretch of stores that run along what Americans call “White Pole” road.

Streets will be widened, businesses rearranged and rebuilt, and storefronts are being redesigned to look like those from American towns, Baba said.

New houses are also being built, but residential and commercial areas will be separate, he said. About 140 units were torn down and 71 units are being rebuilt.

City officials envision the plaza as “the center of U.S.-Japan exchange,” Baba said, with plans to lure bands and entertainers to perform.

A shopping mall, with the name “MG Plaza,” is being built next to the plaza and should open in July 2008. Designed to look like an airport terminal building, it will include about 20 shops, an FM radio station and a studio for the city-owned television station, Baba said.

The Chamber of Commerce last year conducted an Internet survey of base residents in an attempt to open businesses that reminded Americans of their home town, Baba said.

But the shops that were popular – companies such as Tony Roma, Red Lobster and Starbucks – which Americans indicated they wanted and the chamber contacted, declined to open a chain in Misawa, Baba said.

“We are currently recruiting shops,” he said.

One coming attraction that’s certain is a farmer’s market, which is expected to open in 2009, Baba said. It will sell local products such as homegrown vegetables and fruits, seafood from Misawa fishing port, meat, local specialty dishes, and gifts.

The project is supported by the Central City Invigoration Law, which, enacted nine years ago, allows the Japanese government to aid cities and towns that are working to revitalize their central areas, Shindo said. The American Village project is estimated to cost about $72 million, he said.

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