Melissa Vogt and David Penticuff, Chronicle-Tribune

Marion has become the mission field of Korean-born investor Michael An.

The 71-year-old businessman, whose wealth was first created by developing restaurants and hotels and a scrap metal business near oil pipeline construction in Alaska 40 years ago, should begin to reap dividends for local retail consumers within months.

“I’m still open to advice on what this town needs,” An said recently. “We might be missing something because we are not perfect.”

An now keeps a home in Marion. He continued to build his fortune as an investor within the Korean district of Southern California.

Devout, An prays daily and openly blends his faith in Jesus Christ with a high degree of determination in business. He said he was looking to help the Marion community because of the sacrifices made by citizens during the Korean War and because of the Marion community’s strong Christian heritage.

“Now I do everything for my Lord, for my God,” he said. He is Presbyterian.

An-owned companies hold deeds to the former YMCA building at 418 W. Third St., the seven-story building housing Regions Bank at 402 S. Washington St., the former Chrysler dealership at 802 S. Adams St., and lots near those three properties.

Global Investment Consulting Inc. and Global Business Establishment Group Inc., some of An’s businesses, together spent $770,000 buying the various sites in Marion, according to county property records.

Chad Seybold, An’s local business representative, says plans call for a retail dry cleaner along with a dry-cleaning plant large enough to handle other retail sites to open in the former dealership property along South Adams Street. Last week, the business was still awaiting installation of equipment.

A used car dealership will also open soon and already has the name Global Crossroads Auto Dealer on the east side of Adams Street.

He is not developing these businesses with the promise of turning a profit, but rather to do good things, he says. One of those good things would be bringing family and friends from Korea to the United States by way of a somewhat obscure federal program called the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program.

Seybold said An has been working to have Grant County declared a regional center for investment under the program, which would allow a Green Card to be issued to one foreign investor supplying at least $500,000 in a project that results in at least 10 local jobs.

According to immigration attorneys Darren Silver & Associates, the program is designed for investors with sufficient resources to petition themselves and their families for permanent residency and work and provide investment to a high unemployment or rural area. The effort must provide goods or services to U.S. markets while creating full-time employment for U.S. workers.

Under the individual EB-5 program, the person obtaining residency must be involved in the day-to-day management of the new business or directly manage it through formulating business policy.

In the regional center EB-5 program, the immigrant must be involved in the board and high-level decision-making.

Areas along the Ohio River where riverboat gaming is permitted and portions of Indiana near Chicago are included in already-established regional centers.

Seybold said An has been working on such a center to cover Grant County for nearly three years — moving through the approval process with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. It now appears the county is on track for EB-5 regional center approval this year. Once in place, Grant County could attract foreign investment in return for residency from other investors unrelated to An’s various business ventures.

An has discussed business here with his brother’s family in South Korea.

“They know a lot of Bible. They know too much,” An says, pointing to his head, “but doing not enough.”

Bomb shelter to boutique

The most visible and ambitious project to which An has given life is the former Y, which could open to the public as early as November. Renovation has been ongoing for about a year and-a-half. When completed, it will represent a $5.5 million investment by An, Seybold said.

The city created $2.5 million in taxable economic development bonds in 2009, backed by tax-increment financing, to help the company pay down a bank loan for the project.

Since purchasing the site, An has had Seybold oversee an interior rebuilding of the 1950s block structure and refined plans to house several different businesses inside, centered on a 25-room boutique hotel. When finished, it will employ about 90 full-time and part-time workers.

It would include a day spa, an indoor golf center, a men’s clothier, a women’s clothing shop, an antique shop featuring Asian articles, an Asian steakhouse — on the order of Benihana — an Asian grocery store, a coffee shop and a yogurt shop.

The Y’s racquetball courts will remain.

Standing in construction dust of what will someday be the hotel lobby, Seybold says he has removed several tons of concrete block out of the building that, in addition to being the community’s YMCA, also served as a bomb shelter during the Cold War.

Many blocks remain and are being worked into an art deco approach to the building’s interior design.

The entire structure is getting Asian remake, with specially crafted stone cabinet tops, and original woodworking.

Among the 25 rooms will be six suites of varying size, including two VIP suites of 1,100 square feet each. All suites will feature jacuzzis, each bathroom will have a tankless water heater and the various rooms will all feature Asian décor. There will also be access to the roof along Third Street from the hotel, creating a landscaped outdoor area for dining and for rental by private groups.

An elevator shaft, put in place when the structure was built but never used, will now feature a working elevator.

The lower level will feature a salon and spa for men and women, Seybold said, as well as steam rooms. A banquet room has been built above the old YMCA swimming pool with the old pool being converted to storage space under the floor.

A banker recommended a day spa could be successful, according to An.

“I want to do something uptown to upgrade the town.”

The main-floor restaurant will be accessible through the hotel entrance and take diners past the collection of specialty shops.

The old gymnasium is becoming an indoor golf center, complete with virtual golf courses working with four computers and providing golfers with the opportunity to play more than 90 courses from around the world. There will also be indoor driving ranges, including one suitable for professional instruction.

Right now, about 10 construction workers are busy inside the former YMCA.

Certain parts of construction have to await arrival of a new state-of-the-art heating and cooling system from South Korea.

The special hot and cold water exchange system will save 45 to 50 percent on energy costs compared to a traditional forced-air system, Seybold said.

Once open, the hotel shops, spa and golf services will be available to local residents as well as hotel guests.

Seybold said rates will comparable to chain hotels in similar markets.

No tearing down

An concluded he could do more in Marion to meet his goals because property is less expensive here than in California, where he has lived since 1977. He now splits his time between Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., and Marion.

He also believes Marion deserves better than what it has right now. He regularly asks fellow members of his congregation to pray for Marion and his endeavors.

“We don’t need to tear down; we can renovate,” he said of the Y and history bank building.

Seybold said plans for the upper-story office space in the Regions Bank building are not as far along because An is focused on finishing the Y first.

The projects on South Adams Street are smaller in scope and set to open yet this summer, Seybold said.

The site at 802 S. Adams St. was home to the last new car dealership in downtown Marion, Howard Chrysler.

President Ray Harris Howard moved the business Dec. 1, 2006, reopening as Ray Harris Chrysler-Jeep-RV Center near Interstate 69 and Ind. 18.

Global Investment Consulting owns the building and the entire eastern block of South Adams Street between Eighth and Ninth streets, plus about half of the next block north.

The dry-cleaning plant could open within the next two months. An has spent $1.2 million on the building, equipment and upgrades. The number of employees will depend on how well business goes.

Four dry-cleaning machines and other equipment to clean and press clothing have already been delivered to the site. A clothing conveyor for hanging customers’ finished orders is installed.

An also purchased Marion’s tallest building and several adjacent lots Dec. 28 for $480,000, according to county property records. The seven-story building at the southwest corner of Washington and Fourth streets was built in 1916.

“Once again, this town needed this building,” An said.

Details have not been worked out, but An’s vision calls for creating a special trade school for recent immigrants in the building’s largely vacant upper stories.

Seybold said the current tenants, including Regions Bank, won’t be affected.

He estimated upgrades to the building will probably be about $8 million once that project starts in earnest.

An first came to the United States in 1963. He said he has gotten to know Marion over the past five years and says it is a community with very special leaders in a country that has clearly been very special to him.

An said he was 10 years old in 1950 when Marines and United Nations came in to save his country. Now he is ready to pay back.

“I feel like I owe something to this town,” he said.