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Community Marketplace Breaks Ground in America’s Only Thai Town

Los Angeles' Thai Community Development Center (Thai CDC) broke ground on a project they hope will revitalize East Hollywood and introduce Thai Town to the rest of the city Thursday.

Ten years in the making, the organization's $2.95 million Thai Town Marketplace, which plans to help incubate small business vendors and be a "one-stop destination for food, culture, and resources," according to the organization, is scheduled to officially open its doors to the public July 2017.

Thai CDC staffers celebrate the groundbreaking ceremony of the Thai Town Marketplace scheduled to open in 2017. The ceremony took place on Thursday, Sept. 22, in East Hollywood. Photo by curtisvision.com

"This is going to be an anchor for economic development and revitalization, and it's going to be a creative project space for all the ethnic communities in the area and that will promote social integration," Chanchanit "Chancee" Martorell, founder and executive director of Thai CDC, told NBC News.

"We'll have a more livable, walkable community, and more enhanced public space," she added.

Martorell said the marketplace will not only enhance public space, but also circulate dollars in the community and create and sustain jobs for economically disadvantaged residents in East Hollywood and Los Angeles.

A rendering of the Thai Town Marketplace, scheduled to open in 2017. Courtesy of Thai CDC

The marketplace, which is located in the first officially designated Thai Town in the nation, also falls in the L.A. Promise Zone, an area designated by President Obama as part of an anti-poverty initiative.

According to Thai CDC, an estimated 237,639 Thai Americans live in the U.S. The population of Thai Americans living in the Los Angeles region is an estimated 12,506, according to U.S. Census data.

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Thai CDC chose the location of the Thai Town Marketplace from eight possible sites.

"When we saw it was doable, we did a site search in the East Hollywood neighborhood and determined one site to be the best," Martorell said. "We thought public markets could also be a site for immigrant entrepreneurship because that would be a low-cost entry for immigrants to start their own business and be incubated in the process."

Chanchanit "Chancee" Martorell, executive director and founder of Thai CDC, presenting a rendering of the Thai Town Marketplace. Photo by curtisvision.com

The marketplace will also provide training from Thai CDC's Asian Pacific Islander Small Business program in hopes to help low-income residents on the road to becoming economically self-sufficient.

All of the vendors in the marketplace have gone through entrepreneurship training and will continue to be incubated and receive ongoing technical assistance and mentorship, among other resources, Martorell added.

The marketplace will "create 26 entrepreneurship, management, and service jobs for economically disadvantaged residents of East Hollywood and Los Angeles," according to the organization. The 5,000-square foot space is designed to include 12 indoor food stalls, six kiosks, and enhance the visibility of an existing farmer's market that has been in operation for the past five years, as well as a "Health and Wealth Zone" to help connect low-income residents with resources.

Two of the vendors in the marketplace are trafficking survivors and Thai CDC clients who were assisted in two different landmark cases, according to Martorell.

"Through our advocacy and services, they were able to seek justice and get restitution and compensation. And now having gone from slavery and being trafficked victims, they now will have a new chance in life to become economically empowered," she said.

Staffers from Thai Community Development Center. Photo by curtisvision.com

The marketplace initiative was also designed to encourage cultural tourism and the use of public transit, promote health and wellness, and celebrate cultural diversity.

The "transit-oriented" marketplace is located near the Hollywood/Western Metro Red Line subway station — the western gateway to Thai Town, Curtis McElhinney, communications director for Thai CDC, told NBC News.

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Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that the project cost $2.09 million. It cost $2.95 million.