IWAKI, Fukushima Prefecture--It won't be the Ginza or even the city's former shopping street, but Toshio Kumaki hopes temporary store outlets in a schoolyard will help lure back evacuees.
In August, retailers and restaurants will set up in two prefabricated buildings, to be leased for free under a central government program, at the Hisanohama Daiichi Elementary School.
A shopping street of nearly 40 stores in the Hisanohama district was seriously damaged by the March 11 tsunami and a fire. Many residents have evacuated outside the area.
Kumaki, chairman of the Hisanohama chamber of commerce and industry, and other residents think that stores that offer daily necessities are essential in rebuilding the district.
"I hope the project will encourage evacuees to come back to their hometown," said Kumaki.
The central government program to lease temporary buildings to stores and factories damaged by the Great East Japan Earthquake started in Iwaki and Shiogama, Miyagi Prefecture.
The Organization for Small and Medium Enterprises and Regional Innovation, Japan, an independent administrative agency, builds prefabricated buildings on land plots provided by municipalities.
The buildings on the Hisanohama Daiichi Elementary School, with a combined floor space of 280 square meters, will house retailers, such as a supermarket, an appliance store and a clothing store, and restaurants.
The prefectural and municipal governments will subsidize up to 90 percent of the expenses for facilities and equipment.
Prefabricated buildings planned in Shiogama will include two in a parking lot near the port, with a combined floor space of 1,000 square meters.
About 250 stores and offices were flooded in the city on March 11.
"If temporary outlets attract customers, the stores that have remained will benefit as well," the owner of a clothing store said.
However, business owners must shoulder expenses for equipment and facilities in Shiogama.
"I wonder whether I can set up a temporary store because I already have debts from the past," said a grocery store owner.
Thirty-three municipalities, including Iwaki and Shiogama, have applied for the project with more than 200 candidate locations. About 30 sites are expected to be selected.
The budget is limited to 1 billion yen ($12.44 million). Only 50 to 60 buildings can be built because each costs up to 30 million yen.
An official at the Small and Medium Enterprise Agency said it plans to ask for additional funding under the second fiscal 2011 supplementary budget. But it is uncertain when the budget bill will be submitted to the Diet.
Municipalities devastated by the earthquake and tsunami are facing difficulties finding land plots suitable for the project.
The city of Ishinomaki in Miyagi Prefecture has proposed 19 sites.
But progress has not been made on sites near the port because water and electricity supplies have not been fully restored, and the area is suffering from land subsidence.
There are few empty public lots in the city center. The city government is negotiating with private-sector landowners to rent their plots, but negotiations are facing difficulties over rents and periods of time for rental.
"We will be in trouble if landowners say they want their plots back after temporary buildings are erected," a city official said.
The Organization for Small and Medium Enterprises and Regional Innovation, Japan, is asking municipalities to provide public land plots, in principle.
The organization said it has received many requests that involve land plots rented by private-sector landowners who want to have temporary buildings erected for their own use.
(This article was written by Koji Nishimura and Kazuhiko Sasaki.)
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