As Skycity grows, locals’ trip time shrinks

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As Skycity grows, locals’ trip time shrinks

More than half a year after opening, Gimpo Airport’s Skycity retains a fairly low-key hum on Seoul’s retail and leisure scene. Through word-of-mouth and perhaps sheer need among residents on Seoul’s western frontier, however, its convention center, electronics superstore, wedding hall, multiplex cinemas and E-Mart are gaining followers.
And though already massive, Skycity is hardly complete. Pajero ― a combination golf range, 9-hole course and fitness center ― opened Aug. 31. Plans are afoot to tack on a hotel, business offices and art exhibit space to the area once used by harried international travelers. The Korea Airports Corp. shifted international flights to the new and much larger Incheon International Airport in March 2001, leaving Gimpo to handle short domestic hops. That move opened the gates for real estate development by freeing 196,350 square meters (2.1 million square feet) of former terminal space.
Residents of Gangseo, the district encircling Skycity, stand to benefit the most. Retailers say these people often headed as far as central and southern Seoul to do their shopping, but that won’t be necessary any longer. Less noise, thanks to fewer flights in the area, further boosts the surrounding area’s residential desirability, they said.
One of Skycity’s success stories is its Convention Center, where nearly all rooms have been booked on weekends through the end of the year, according to Na Kil-ho, the director.
People in Mok-dong, Ilsan and nearby areas “had to rely on hotel space in Gangnam [southern Seoul] to hold special events and ceremonies” such as weddings, major birthdays and club gatherings, Mr. Na said. “Now an option is open in Gangseo.”
Locals are also catching on to the M-Park 9-screen multiplex, the first of its kind in this section of town. On a recent Wednesday evening, Park Ji-young, 31, and her husband Han Dong-hee, 36, who are regulars at M-Park, drove 10 minutes from Hwagok-dong to catch a screening of “Bad Boys 2.”
“We used to go out as far as Sinchon and Mok-dong, which are a good 30 to 40 minutes away from where we live,” Mrs. Park says. “Now it’s much more convenient to catch a movie at night in the neighborhood.”
So far, the cinema remains a family center, with weekends and evenings its busiest times. The same holds true for discount retailer E-Mart, Korea’s version of Wal-Mart and as such a purveyor of groceries, appliances, apparel and household accessories. Branch manager Kim Won-jae says E-Mart crowds pick up after 4 p.m. and on weekends. “Most housewives drive in with their husbands to do their grocery shopping, as it’s not common for Korean women to have their own cars at home.”
Techno Skycity, a three-level electronics retailer that occupies much of the visible space in the complex and opened in April, seems to still be on an uphill climb. Its managers boast that it contains the largest retail space for telecommunications equipment, both imported and domestic, in Seoul.
“Most people are on vacation abroad during the summer and for Chuseok, and not really home to do much shopping,” explained Kim Hee-sook, who runs an accessories space. “But more and more people have been coming to the area to check out the buzz of this new complex.”
Retailers at Skycity agree that advertising has been limited (though a Web site does exist). With such lack of promotion, it certainly didn’t hurt when Song Jung-guk, one of Korea’s soccer players during the 2002 World Cup, chose Skycity for his nuptials back in June.

by Stella Lee
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