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August 7, 2002
HCDA subcommittee recommends OK to waterfront plans
Ben DiPietro

A retail, commercial and residential mix along the Honolulu waterfront is envisioned in preliminary development plans for Kakaako presented Wednesday to the Hawaii Community Development Authority.

An HCDA subcommittee recommended to the HCDA board approval of the estimated $130 million development project on 180 acres of land makai of Ala Moana Boulevard.

A final draft of the plan is expected in September and the board should be prepared to vote on the project in October, said Jan Yokota, executive director of HCDA, which owns more than 160 acres of the land being developed.

Plans center around an architectural "signature icon" along the lines of the Opera House in Sydney, Australia, with an oceanscience center or technology museum suggested as possible ideas.
"We want to create a sense of place, a place of employment and a key to our success is having architectural components," said

Christine Camp of Avalon Development and a member of the HCDA board and subcommittee that devised the plan. "We are creating another reason for people to visit Hawaii."
Other components include a pedestrian mall for the Fisherman's Wharf area similar to River Walk in San Antonio, Texas or Seattle's Pike Street Market, said Teney Takahashi, HCDA director of planning and development.

There's also park space, 300 to 400 residential units, commercial and retail space and parking for between 2,000 and 2,500 vehicles that would be hidden behind residential and retail development.
"Any plan without residential doesn't have a soul," said Takahashi, who said development rules must be changed to allow for such zoning.

A retail-residential mix by itself would not be enough to make the project financially viable, but the construction of a new University of Hawaii medical school serves as the catalyst not just for the waterfront project, but for development throughout Kakaako, Takahashi said.

"If [the medical school] were not here, this plan would be worthless and there would be no impetus to move ahead," Takahashi said. "Retail on its own is not enough to do it."

Several obstacles need to be overcome, including changing zoning rules, making it easier to cross Ala Moana Boulevard, whether to use tax-increment financing and completing environmental cleanup of sites, including three former incinerator sites.

Cleanup costs are included in the overall cost, and Takahashi said there shouldn't be any surprises since extensive environmental surveys of the area were made and officials have a good idea of what work is needed. Still there's concern because, as Takahashi put it: "Every time we poke a hole we have to deal with an environmental issue."

The state Legislature already has provided about $30 million in funding, but a battle could be brewing between the city and the state over tax-increment financing, which would allow HCDA to keep any tax revenues above an established base amount.

Most every other development agency uses this type of financing, Takahashi said, with the most successful example in San Jose, Calif., which brings in as much as $1 billion a year.

The problem, Takahashi said, is HCDA is a state agency and the city likely will be reluctant to give up any of its tax revenue.

"The city's ox gets gored in this case," he said. "It's going to be an uphill issue ... but we should throw it on the table."

The plan is similar to ones prepared by Kamehameha Schools and Victoria Ward Centers for development of their areas of Kakaako. Kamehameha Schools wants to create an "urban neighborhood" in the area, one that provides jobs, places to live and play, is walkable and easy to navigate.

How to get across Ala Moana Boulevard remains an unsolved obstacle, and Takahashi said a solution must be found to prevent the problems that occur at Aloha Tower, where people have to race across Nimitz Highway to get from mauka to makai.

Brian Minaai, state transportation director, suggested his department would consider overpasses, which past department directors refused to look at. Others said such an idea could work if the walkway contains retail stores so people wouldn't realize they were crossing on a bridge. Another alternative is shuttle buses, but that can be very expensive, said Takahashi, pointing out it costs Kaanapali, Maui, about $1 million a year to operate shuttles between area hotels and Lahaina.

The plan prepared for Kamehameha Schools suggests traffic-calming measures for Ala Moana Boulevard, similar to ones enacted in Kaimuki.

The board also must decide whether to name a single developer for the waterfront project or multiple developers. Takahashi recommended a single developer.

"This project requires a lot of coordination and it would be easier to work with one developer," he said. "It also would be more comfortable for the developer."

Pacific Business News (Honolulu) - August 7, 2002


© 2002 American City Business Journals Inc.






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