Some donors to Chinese Heritage Gate will protest celebration
West Valley City's recently constructed Chinese Heritage Gate will be missing a key competent during its official dedication on Saturday: many of the donors who contributed to the project, which has been 12 years in the making.
Mayor Mike Winder will welcome dignitaries from Taiwan and unveil the 48-foot-long gate, which is designed to be a symbol of friendship between West Valley City and Nantou, Taiwan.
Some donors are upset with Terence "Terry" Chen, the board chairman for the Chinese Heritage Foundation of Utah, who is accused by some of financial mismanagement during his role in developing the cultural gate. Last month, some donors who contributed money for the gate showed up at a West Valley City Council accusing Chen of failing to provide a budget and ledger for the project's funding. Several people alleged they didn't know where their money went after they gave it to Chen and wonder if their donations truly went to fund the gate.
The project was funded through multiple sources: West Valley City paid $150,000, Taiwan donated $10,000 and private donors contributed about$140,000 for the gate.
The controversy isn't the only reason donors are upset, however. Several Chinese donors take issue with West Valley City claiming a friendship with Taiwan for political reasons.
"This has caused more frustration, disappointment and anger than happiness to this community," said Jimmy Lu, a 2002 board member on the Chinese Heritage Foundation of Utah and past chairman for the Utah Organization of Chinese Americans, who is among those upset about the aspect of the gate being a friendship link between Utah and Taiwan.
Lu, who donated to the project, plans not to attend a Saturday appreciation dinner or the gate unveiling because he said the city and others have changed the project's original purpose. He said emphasizing a friendship between only two cities makes the Chinese community as a whole feel like they are not included in the gate's symbolism.
During construction, a banner on a chain link fence in front of the gate bore a West Valley City flag on one side with a Taiwanese flag on the other. The banner read "Chinese Heritage Friendship Gate" with a artist's rendition of the gate. It also thanked Nantou City, Taiwan, companies who helped ship the gate overseas the Utah Cultural Celebration Center and West Valley City.
"They got us involved in their friendship," Lu said of the city. "If you narrow it down to two cities, why do you get the whole community involved?"
Hao Zhu, a donor and the original deputy director for the Chinese Heritage Foundation of Utah, said he was debating attending the gate celebration, but after seeing that no Chinese community members were mentioned on the banner, he decided not to go.
"I felt very disappointed," Zhu said of the banner's emphasis on Taiwan. "It is not the same project I started with. We spent so much effort to involve the community and our community is not even mentioned by a big banner produced by West Valley City."
City Manager Wayne Pyle said the city has had "indirect involvement" in the project and wonders why the public is only voicing concerns at this stage in the process.
"All the sudden now we have concern now?" he said.
The gate will be unveiled at 6 p.m. Saturday at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center, 1355 W. 3100 South, and a celebration will follow until 10 p.m.
The Chinese Heritage Friendship Gate: A Timeline
2000: West Valley City and Nantou, Taiwan, sign a sister city agreement and talk about building a Chinese gate in West Valley City.
June 2003: The Utah Cultural Celebration Center opens and the area is named as a possible site for gate. West Valley Sister City Committee is also filed with the IRS as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. The committee would later become defunct after failing to file tax returns for three years in a row. It was later moved under the umbrella of the city's Cultural Arts Board.
2002-2012: Members of the local Chinese community organize the Chinese Heritage Foundation of Utah in 2002, led by local community leader Terence "Terry" Chen. More than $200,000 was raised from donors in Utah and Taiwan.
2011: West Valley City Mayor Mike Winder and Mayor Zu Shuhua of Nantou, Taiwan both agree to finish the gate on the 12th anniversary of the sister city relationship.
July 2011: Ground broken on the Chinese Heritage Friendship Gate at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center at 1355 W. 3100 South.
July 2012: The gate, built in Taiwan, is shipped to Utah.
August 2012: Re-construction of the gate in Utah by local company YAMAY General Contracting, Inc.
Sept. 29, 2012: Chinese Heritage Gate Celebration.
Source: Utah Cultural Celebration Center