Fresh faces setting Chinatown business precinct on a new path

Fresh faces setting Chinatown business precinct on a new path
Jack Hayes

Christina Zhao is no stranger to the City of Melbourne’s Business Precinct Program. 

Serving as the inaugural president of the Melbourne City North Association, Ms Zhao is now the new face of the council-endorsed business precinct for Melbourne’s Chinatown. 

Along with a new committee and advisory board, the Melbourne Chinatown Business Association (MCBA) promises to take what is the oldest Chinatown in the western world on a new path of “unity and cohesion.”

According to Ms Zhao, the MCBA’s mission is to revitalise and empower Chinatown’s businesses and community; through strategic partnerships, advocacy, and innovative programming, they promote economic development, cultural preservation, and social equity in the precinct. 

“Melbourne is so diverse. We want to keep the history and culture of Chinatown, while showcasing the other cultures that call it home,” Ms Zhao said. 

“We are working closely with other precincts in the CBD, including the Melbourne City North Business Association, to create a sense of unity among businesses in the city, and bring new events for Chinatown, not just focusing on the Lunar New Year, but new concepts to bring people back into the city and bring people to precinct.” 

Following a turbulent three years for Melbourne’s Chinatown, with COVID-19 ravaging business trade and a constant state of flux in the business community with the council endorsing three different business associations in that time, it’s hoped these fresh faces provide the stability its members crave. 

Committee member and events professional, Ngoc Lee, told CBD News the MCBA would serve its purpose of providing a “bridge between council and traders, while driving activity through events and campaigns”.

 

We know how busy our traders are running their own businesses and know it’s often hard to find times to network or collaborate with others around them,” Ms Lee said. “We want to provide convenient opportunities for them work with everyone in the city not just the precinct, because if it benefits the city, it benefits Chinatown, and it benefits our members.

 

The establishment of the Melbourne Chinatown Business Association marks the latest chapter in what’s been a turbulent few years for the City of Melbourne’s precinct program in Chinatown. 

Until 2021, the precinct was led by Chinatown Precinct Association (CPA) for more than two decades under the leadership of former president Danny Doon, and vice-president Eng Lim. 

In 2022, the CPA’s era came to an end after the council defunded it in preference of the newly formed Melbourne Chinatown Association (MCA) led by Jing Jun (JJ) Heng and Trevor Du, who served as president and vice-president, respectively. 

While the MCA promised to shake things up for the struggling precinct post-COVID with a new “modern touch”, the council chose not to renew its funding as part of its precinct program, instead opting for a new direction again under the MCBA. 

The council didn’t confirm its reasons for not renewing funding for the MCA when contacted by CBD News. The group’s president JJ Heng was also contacted for comment. 

It’s understood the group struggled to attract enough members during its first year of operation, with the council confirming the new MCBA already has a verified membership database of 100 members. 

In thanking both the MCA and CPA for their contributions, Lord Mayor Sally Capp said the council was looking forward to working with the new group through the “vital” work of its precincts program.

“There are many fantastic organisations and individuals who work tirelessly for Melbourne, and we thank JJ Heng and Trevor Du from the MCA, plus Eng Lim and Danny Doon from the CPA, for their service, support and passion in driving visitation and spend to the precinct,” Cr Capp said. 

“Small businesses make up 74 per cent of Melbourne’s trader network – and our precinct associations play a vital role in bringing them together to share ideas and boost local spending.”    

“Our Business Precinct Program has supported business and precinct associations for more than 20 years – creating invaluable opportunities for networking, education and training, while attracting more people to every corner of our city.”  

Despite not receiving any council funding, both the MCA and the CPA still operate as trader groups in Chinatown. 

The council says it will invest more than $850,000 in 2023–24 to support business and precinct associations across the city to continue creating “opportunities for business networking, education and training, and initiatives to encourage visitation and local spending”. 

The MCBA is one of 10 precinct associations in the municipality, and one of five based in the CBD, awarded up to $120,000 this financial year as part of the program, which also includes:

  • Carlton Inc.   
  • City Precinct   
  • Collins Street Precinct Group   
  • Docklands Chamber of Commerce   
  • Greek Precinct Association   
  • Kensington Business Association   
  • Melbourne City North Business Association   
  • North & West Melbourne Precinct Association   
  • Yarra River Business Association

The MCBA will receive funding for the next 12 months under year three funding of the Business Precinct Program 2021-25. •

For more information: melbournechinatownbusiness.com

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