Visiting Chinese delegation gets look at Greenwich

First Selectman Peter Tesei and town ambassador at large Bea Crumbine presented an official town of Greenwich flag to the delegation of visiting Chinese journalists as part of an exchange of gifts during their visit to town last week. — Ken Borsuk photo

First Selectman Peter Tesei and town ambassador at large Bea Crumbine presented an official town of Greenwich flag to the delegation of visiting Chinese journalists as part of an exchange of gifts during their visit to town last week.
— Ken Borsuk photo

Out-of-town visitors to Greenwich are nothing new, but last Friday was  noteworthy as a delegation of 14 Chinese journalists came to Town Hall to meet with First Selectman Peter Tesei and learn about the town.

The stop to Greenwich is part of a 10-day tour of America by the journalists, who came from media all over China. Much of the first part of the tour was centered around New York City, and because of Greenwich’s proximity to New York as well as its reputation as a major home for hedge funds, the group spent several hours in town, including taking a tour of Greenwich Avenue and visiting Belle Haven.

But it was the meeting with Mr. Tesei and the members of the First Selectman’s Economic Advisory Committee that was the centerpiece of the visit. Mr. Tesei gave a brief rundown of the facts of Greenwich before taking questions from the journalists with the help of translator Wendy Hua. While not all of the journalists covered the economic beat, nearly all of the questions centered around Greenwich’s economy and the real estate market, with the first question asking what Greenwich’s property tax rate was.

Other questions centered around the impact of hedge funds in town, how the town’s real estate market had weathered the economic downturn and also about the schools and Greenwich’s involvement in the arts. Mr. Tesei was asked about the breakdown of Greenwich between residential and commercial development, and after conferring with the members of the Economic Advisory Committee, agreed that it was close to 80% to 20% in favor of residential. He was also asked the median housing price ($1.6 million) and the average housing price ($2.1 million).

Mr. Tesei did stress that despite the high prices for many homes, Greenwich remained an economically diverse community and that people from all walks of life had the opportunity to live there.

Many questions were about the health of the real estate market, something that several of the journalists said was on their mind after viewing the luxury homes in Belle Haven. That was where the members of the committee were eager to come into play, answering some of the more specific questions about the market.

“Greenwich has been a destination town for many, many years,” Sabine Schoenberg, a committee member and president of Prime Sites Inc., said. “We go way back. I’m sure you’ve seen some older homes and some brand-new homes. People who live here understand the long tradition of Greenwich and Greenwich real estate values. It’s not just a new phenomenon. It’s been here for many years and hopefully, in all likelihood, will continue in the same direction.”

When asked what parts of town already had Chinese people in them, Ms. Schoenberg said that she had conducted two transactions in the past week on opposite sides of town. Mr. Tesei said there were many organizations independent of the town that could help people moving to town from another country adjust culturally, and Ms. Schoenberg told the delegation that Greenwich was an international community with many diverse countries represented culturally.

“You walk around town and you hear many different languages spoken all the time,” Ms. Schoenberg said. “Integrating is actually quite easy.”

Once the questions were done, Mr. Tesei presented an official Greenwich flag to the delegation. He even got a chance to ask a question of his own, wondering about the willingness for there to be Chinese investment in Greenwich and joking, “Just tell them that the Town Hall is not for sale.”

After the meeting, Mr. Tesei told the Post that he thought it was an interesting and fun experience that showed the international stature of Greenwich, despite the challenge of the language barrier between himself and the delegation.

“It’s exciting for Greenwich to have the interest of an international community, particularly journalists,” Mr. Tesei said. “They want to know more about our way of life. Certainly we were fortunate to have someone who could translate the message back and forth, but there’s something universal about body language that I think helps to convey people’s feelings and interests. I got that from today’s gathering and clearly this is a very well-educated and researched group of journalists really trying to further their knowledge about our culture and particularly the financial aspect of it.”

The only East Coast locations the delegation will look at on its trip are New York City and Greenwich. The group was scheduled next to journey back to the West Coast, first stopping in Las Vegas, Nev., to look at the San Francisco and Los Angeles, Calif., and Silicon Valley areas before going back to China. It was all put together by the Chinese real estate development company Jiangong Zhejiang Real Estate. Bob Ormond, a vice president and general manager in America for the company, was a key part of putting it together and accompanied the group to Greenwich.

“The chairman of the company knows Greenwich to be a financial center,” Mr. Ormond said. “It’s not in Manhattan but Manhattan is sitting right nearby.”

The job of leading the tour fell to Bea Crumbine, the town’s ambassador at large. Fluent in many languages, Ms. Crumbine admitted to the Post that Chinese was not one of them but said the tour was a success and that it was fascinating to see the translation back and forth.

“They knew that this would be an interesting place to look at, and I was happy to help them with that,” Ms. Crumbine said. “This isn’t just a town with a rich history, but it also has strong financial roots, wonderful living and good schools. Those were all areas they wanted to discuss. We had a nice time traveling around for about an hour in their big bus. We drove down Greenwich Avenue, we looked at the train station, which they loved and were very interested to know how many people went through it each day, we went past the Teen Center and the Boys & Girls Club and we had time to show them Belle Haven before we came to Town Hall. We talked about the waterfront and the town history and they were amazed by the age of town. It was a wonderful experience.”

Ms. Crumbine said the visit showed Greenwich’s continued financial growth as well as the look overseas by China to find out what opportunities are out there in the world.

“It’s nice that Greenwich is one of those potential opportunities,” Ms. Crumbine said.

When asked what he took away from the experience, Mr. Tesei said, “It reaffirms that Greenwich is a community that attracts international attention as a home of some of the wealthiest people in the world who are leaders in areas of industry and finance. Otherwise they would not be here to learn more about us. It’s always good to see that people from outside the town can reaffirm its special nature and the qualities that the town of Greenwich has.”


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