Cambodia-Americans in Lowell, Mass., are working with city officials to develop a “Little Cambodia,” which they hope will improve businesses and bring more jobs.
On March 31, representatives of the city met with members of the Cambodian community to present an idea for an area that would include businesses, an association and other services.
Suggested names for the area include “Little Cambodia in Lowell,” “Khmer Town in Lowell,” or “Khmer Cultural Village in Lowell.”
Bernard Lynch, Lowell city manager, and five other city officials addressed about 100 Cambodians to ask for their participation in the project.
“What we really want to do is honor the Cambodian community’s contribution in Lowell and designate the area as truly a little Cambodia,” he said. “And we also looking to work with businesses, to help them succeed and bring people into the city, into this neighborhood, to recognize and to partake in the Cambodian culture that we have here.”
Lynch said the city of Lowell, which has the second-largest population of Cambodians in the US, would spend up to $700,000 when the project kicks off this summer, along with contributions from Cambodian businesses.
The plan includes four main streets leading into the area, which would have gates or statues to mark the entrances.
“As a way to make it known and bring it to the attention of a wider audience, we will need to look to promote some festivals or special events that will draw people to the area to recognize this new identity,” said Adam Baacke, Lowell city assistant manager said during a presentation of the plan.
Rasy An, executive director of Cambodia Mutual Assistance of Great Lowell, Inc., said many business owners are interested in developing the project, including decorating properties in the area with Cambodian characteristics.
The new area would draw businesses, tourists and events and bring more jobs, benefitting the tax base for the city, he said. The city will help owners by subsidizing efforts “to develop or beautify their businesses with the look of Khmer culture,” he said.
Participants of the March meeting welcomed the initiative.
“I promise to contribute some money,” said Chhuor Heng, 54. “I don’t have much money, but I’ll give as much as I can afford.”
“I’m delighted with the city plan and the fact that they came to listen to our ideas,” said Hak Siphorn, who came to the US as a refugee in 1985 with her husband and four children.
Dian Hang, who arrived as a refugee in 1981, said she supported the project “100 percent.”
“It will help drivers from other places recognize that they have arrived in Khmer town,” she said.
Ou Sovann, Cambodian honorary counsel in Lowell, said the proposed area would also increase business connections between Cambodia and the city, especially in the food service industry, while increasing jobs for Cambodians.
Cambodian businesses saw an increase in the rice exports to Long Beach, Calif., when that city built it’s own “Cambodia Town,” he said.