Game Guesthouse manager Hyeon Jong-hyeon is not happy with development plans. Photo by Darren Southcott
Plans to redevelop the Sanjicheon area of Jeju City have not been positively received in all quarters. Local guesthouse manager Hyeon Jong-hyeon is sweating over losing 50 million won in refurbishment costs if he is forced out by gentrifiers.
“Tamna Cultural Square,” to begin later this year, is slated for completion by 2015 at a cost of 12.2 billion won, with a further 23 billion set aside for compensation to businesses and property owners affected by the development. Tenant Hyeon feels it will not adequately cover his effort in time and capital.
“I thought it would only take a small investment to improve the interior, but I have invested around 50 million won, which includes my own personal time and effort. I have had to borrow money from friends,” said Hyeon.
Hyeon runs the “Game Guesthouse” in Geonip-dong, leasing the property. After moving in last July, to draw increasing numbers of young travellers he invested heavily in the remodelling the interior; the fresh wooden doors and benches are testament the carpentry work.
Much of Geonib-dong, despite being a stone’s throw from upmarket hotels such as the Ramada, has long suffered from the southward shift in economic activity, away from the Tapdong area.
The area’s reputation for shady business establishments only lends urgency to the redevelopment plans, particularly with its proximity to the international port and increasing numbers of cruise passengers passing through its narrow streets.
Behind Imhang-ro’s hotels and coffee shops are crumbling stone-walled houses, punctuated by small motels and derelict-looking blocks; most activity comes from the slinking alley cats, or the blinking neon of rarely frequented singing rooms.
Hyeon thought the investment made sound business sense, despite rumors of redevelopment. He stresses that at no point was there consultation from government officials to confirm these.
“I started my business last July and at that time there were no plans to redevelop the area. There were rumours, but we received no contact. Then, suddenly, the government moved the plans forward - it was a shock,” Hyeon said.
Hyeon feels that communication has been poor from city officials; he claims local residents and business have been kept in the dark about the extent of the redevelopment area.
“A local officer told me that the development would not include my property. But then they changed, saying that the development will include the guesthouse - even the owner of the building didn’t know that. He had no idea if it would be included or not,” said Hyeon.
“In my opinion, this village needs redevelopment, as the atmosphere is really bad. I agree that something needs to be done, but it needs to be done in a different way. There has been no consultancy. There should be a more democratic way,” said Hyeon.
While the money may come as a blessing to some locals, Hyeon feels his investment should be properly compensated.
“Some people might see this as a windfall, as the compensation seems quite good money, but it is not sufficient for the investment I have sacrificed,” Hyeon said.
This is not only a financial issue, as Hyeon also urges government officials to improve communication with locals and understand the community’s concerns.
“Older people will be scared of having to move to a new place. It would be ideal if they could not only give money, but give continued help to resettle in a new area. People are tired of this,” Hyeon said. “They didn’t communicate at all with the community.”
As the gentrification plans move forward, Hyeon’s example shows that development always comes at a cost. How well the provincial government can manage these costs remains to be seen.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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