Mon, Apr 23, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Stephen M. Young On Taiwan: A 21st Century Office Building for a 21st Century Relationship

News reports indicate the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) will formally inaugurate its New Office Building (NOB) on June 12. As the unofficial “godfather” of this project, I want to share some personal reflections on the long and winding road this project has taken over the past two decades.

I worked as a junior officer in AIT from 1981-82, in the then already decrepit building on Hsin Yi Road. Built in the 1950s for the MAAG (Military Army Advisory Group), it was hastily converted into the offices of AIT in early 1979, following evacuation of the US Embassy in Taipei after the break in diplomatic relations in December 1978. The embassy staff, headed by former Deputy Chief of Mission Bill Brown, initially met in his residence on Yangmingshan, while determining next steps. As US military officials were departing the island, the decision was made to convert the space into the new unofficial mission’s headquarters.

When I first worked on Hsin Yi Road there were roughly 55 American employees, and the place already felt crowded. When I returned in the late 1990s to serve as AIT’s Deputy Director, we had 100 Americans and perhaps 300-plus local employees. The building, despite some window dressing, was run down and overcrowded. Our Commercial and Public Affairs Sections, as well as the Agricultural Section — enjoying their own home office funding — had found separate accommodations in other locations around Taipei. Yet the building was still too small for our purposes.

My boss, then Director Darryl Johnson, early on assigned me the task of scouting out a new site for our AIT building. The old one was too small, in disrepair, and the land it was located on was in high demand from several Taiwan Government entities who advanced longstanding claims to the site.

I worked with friends in Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the President’s Office, the Premier’s Office and the Taipei Mayor’s Office. We looked at the old TAS site in Tien Mu, but it was too small and was flood-prone. I visited potential sites in the Taipei suburbs, but they didn’t fit the bill: either too small, too expensive or too far from the city center, where most of our clients lived. Eventually, I was told there was an old driving school in suburban Neihu that might be available.

I went out to check it out personally. It seemed a bit far from town, and I was concerned about the impact on our loyal local employees in adjusting to a site so far from the Hsin Yi location they were so used to. I then learned that a new line of the Taipei Metro was planned running out to Neihu, which would ease the commute for both employees and visa applicants from the city. I also explored the possibility of expanding the site to place a new Director’s residence nearby. Finally, I wanted to make sure we had space for our advanced Chinese Language School, which would be relocating from its site up on bucolic Yangmingshan. All of this checked out, though I would have preferred that the language school — like the Marines — have a separate building from the main office on the five acre lot.

At the same time, I was working with senior administrative people in the State Department on financing the new project. Then Assistant Secretary for Administration Pat Kennedy told me this should be an easy project to fund, because some of the money for it could come from the visa fees collected by AIT. This was money gathering interest in a bank account because it could not be deposited in the US Treasury, given AIT’s peculiar status as a non-government entity.

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