AUBURN — Wealthy Chinese citizens will shuttle in and out of L-A to receive medical treatment unavailable in their homeland and recuperate in a former shoe shop converted to a $30 million to $40 million luxury residence, officials said.

The Chinese investors in the project intend to capitalize on China’s growing wealth, aging populace and the superior American health care system by turning the dilapidated brick factory on Minot Avenue, now called The Barn, into a posh residence.

The Shengtong Group in Beijing will convert the former Lunn and Sweet shoe factory building at 67 Minot Ave., and surrounding property, into a state-of-the-art health and wellness hotel aligned with Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston.

The group completed the purchase of the 67 and 81 Minot Ave. buildings earlier this month through Miracle Enterprises, their Maine company.

Michelle Xu, director of overseas investments for the group, and other members spoke to the Sun Journal on Thursday.

Xu, translating for Chairwoman Shi Qi, said the operation will be a medical tourism center, the first overseas project of its kind for the group. They are working on a similar project in Germany and mulling future projects in the U.S.

“When we first came to Auburn, we fell in love, head over tail, with the people here, the fresh air, clean water, clean food,” she said. “It definitely works from a tourism angle and the site itself meets the needs we have. It is transformable into a medical center with a tourism angle.” 

The operation would cater to active, wealthy Chinese retirees, or soon-to-be retired seniors, and financially stable middle-aged people. It would combine medical treatment — both American and traditional Chinese — with traditional tourism, according to Auburn Economic Development Director Roland Miller.

“What has happened, according to this investment group, is that a very large segment of the Chinese population, that is now very wealthy and can move anywhere in the world, wants to have their health care provided external to the Chinese system,” Miller said. “They are traveling for health care services and they want to come to the U.S.”

Miller said the group plans to invest up to $40 million in the building and surroundings. The site is now valued at about $1 million, he said.

“They want to develop that building into a five-star, full-service, everything-first-class hotel for these clients,” he said. “These clients travel the world and they know first class and that’s what they want.”

Miller said partnership members hope to leverage the federal EB-5 visa program to generate investment. That program grants green cards to foreign investors who commit up to $1 million to domestic U.S. projects.

Miller said the investors began looking at metropolitan areas around the United States earlier this year, settling on Maine and Lewiston-Auburn in the spring.

“They came here, they love it here and they think it’s a beautiful, gorgeous area,” Miller said. “They think they can market it and their investment team already has people on a waiting list.”

Partner Fei Miao of Sabattus said he was treated for lymphatic cancer at CMMC and was impressed. Through translator Xu, he said he recommended the hospital and the community to Shi Qi and the other investors.

“And then she did a lot of homework on the hospital, and that they have many specialists for everything and that it’s a very well-rounded facility,” Xu said. “That is how we started the discussion with the city.”

The group visited Auburn in April to look at the site and meet with city and hospital officials. They included Shi Qi and her assistant and translator, Eddie Yu.

In May, Miller introduced group members to leaders at Central Maine Healthcare, the parent organization of CMMC. Soon after, the hospital system agreed in writing to work with the Chinese investors and incoming Chinese patients seeking medical care.

In an interview with the Sun Journal on Thursday, Central Maine Healthcare CEO Peter Chalke called the project “pretty unique” and said, “It took a while for this to sink in.”

It’s unclear how many Chinese patients will use CMMC or how much care they will need. However, medical tourism is popular with major hospitals across the United States because even a few foreign patients can bring in a lot of money. They typically pay cash and don’t haggle on price.

Chalke said The Barn project could offer a lot of positives: jobs in the community, a cultural exchange for Lewiston-Auburn and medical care for people who need it, as well as money and new relationships for the hospital.

“I don’t see any downsides,” he said.

Yu returned to Lewiston-Auburn on July 17 to meet with Auburn city councilors in a closed-door executive session July 20.

Shi Qi and a larger group of investors, including Chinese doctors, returned to Maine last weekend. They met with state officials Tuesday morning and reviewed the site from the air Tuesday afternoon.

A news conference on the project is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Friday in the City Council chambers on the second floor of Auburn Hall and should include city and state officials, as well as members of the investment group, designers and aligned groups.

Xu said the investment group is scheduled to sign an agreement with a Chinese medical referral group, Age Doctor Group, during the news conference.

“They are the largest promoter and marketer of medical services in China,” Xu said. “They have the largest clientele network in the country and we will be able to leverage their client network.”

There are no design plans yet, Miller said. According to an early design draft of the project, the building would house up to 200 independent dwelling units of about 663 square feet and another 50 with dedicated nursing.

“Keep in mind that this is a sort of prototype structure they created to give us a feeling for how it could work,” Miller said.

The group has contracted with Los Angeles-based Architect Taschen Lee of Taylor Design for the renovation.

Patients would be treated at CMMC, 1.3 miles away, and would use the Minot Avenue building to recuperate.

Plans call for developing the 3.4 acres along the west side of Minot Avenue just south of Court Street and the Union Street Bypass, as well as surrounding properties.

The city owns the 1.2-acre parcel just north of the development, which is the former Auburn police station. That building would become the office for the project during the two-year development.

Miller said two city-owned parcels to the south could become part of the project as well. That would include the 0.4-acre 87 Minot Ave. lot and the 0.1-acre lot at the foot of the Edward Little-Franklin Woods/Snake Trail that connects Minot Avenue with Edward Little High School.

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See more:

Rich Chinese investors may get permanent visas through The Barn project

What is medical tourism?

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