Kakaako's Building Boom

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Landowners and the state share a vision of a walkable, live-work-and-play community with both high- and low-rise buildings.

This view of Kakaako today will gradually change over the next 20 years with the construction of dozens of new buildings, including Hawaii’s tallest tower. The picture is taken from 677 Ala Moana, what many people still call the Gold Bond Building.

Photo: David Croxford

When the governor takes a meeting at the trendy Fresh Café in the midst of Kakaako’s gritty warren of body shops and warehouses, something big is cooking. When the meeting includes a major landowner and innovators from the community, you can bet what’s cooking is Kakaako itself.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie called that recent meeting to discuss what he calls the “Third City,” a live-work-and-play urban neighborhood of the near future with cafes, parks, lofts, preschools and senior centers, startups, stores, and high-rises with upscale and affordable housing.

Visions of a transformed Kakaako have been bandied about for three decades, but this time the landowners and state agencies are working together more closely, and dozens of projects are going forward in the next few years. If it comes together, it will be a multibillion-dollar investment that brings jobs, housing and new vitality to Honolulu’s core.


Kakaako's current population


Estimated population in 2030

“We’re gearing up for a new day for Kakaako,” Abercrombie says. “We have a chance to initiate the next, exciting urban center in the country.”

In a rush of words, he describes a walkable community of high-rise condos and rentals, including the state’s tallest building, plus stores, innovative businesses, and sites for music, dance and artistic expression – all reflecting Hawaii’s culture and our Pacific location.

The big private landowners are generally in sync with this vision. “It’s the most exciting asset in our portfolio. We’re definitely moving forward,” says David M. Striph, senior VP-Hawaii for the Howard Hughes Corp., Kakaako’s largest private landowner with 60 acres, including the Ward Centers.

Of course, not all conflicts are over. The Hawaii Community Development Authority (HCDA), the state agency that oversees Kakaako’s development, and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs disagree over plans to upgrade Kewalo Basin, a small harbor now used mostly by tour companies. Other disputes are simmering, but, barring an economic catastrophe, a transformation of much of Kakaako’s 670 acres appears unstoppable.

It will happen with or without rail. But, if rail goes ahead, there will be two stations here: the first, called Civic Center, at Halekauwila near Keauhou Street; the second, called Kakaako Station, will be near where the Ross store is on Ward Avenue.

Once thought of as the ugly duckling of urban Honolulu, a place crowded with repair shops, warehouses and other low-rent businesses, Kakaako has had more than 40 projects and $200 million worth of infrastructure improvements completed since 1988 in preparation for its full emergence as Honolulu’s new swan. Here are some of the upcoming projects:

  • The state’s half-billion-dollar transit-oriented development, called 690 Pohukaina, will include the state’s tallest building, at 650 feet, and a mix of affordable and market-priced residential units for sale and rent. Bids to plan, build and operate it were due by the end of August. The first phase is in the permit stage. (More details on page 32.)
  • Howard Hughes Corp. plans next fall to open the Ward Village Shops Phase II on Auahi Street, next to the T.J. Maxx store, comprising 57,000 square feet of retail space over two floors.
  • Kamehameha Schools, with 29 Kakaako acres mauka of Ala Moana boulevard, has three pending projects: 54 affordable loft-style apartments, with rents from $1,400 to $1,600 a month, will be available for rent starting this month or next in the repurposed building at 680 Ala Moana; a 400-foot residential tower and low-rise townhomes to be built by Alexander & Baldwin on the former CompUSA site with scheduled construction start date in 2014; and a low-rise gathering place with cafes, shops and open space just mauka of 680 Ala Moana, and bounded by Auahi, Coral and Keawe Streets (artist’s rendering on this page).

Kamehameha Schools’ plan calls for Auahi Street, between Coral and Keawe, to be a gathering place called “Salt,” filled with shops, outdoor cafes and open spaces.

Rendering: Kamehameha Schools


As part of that project, modifications of existing buildings on Auahi Street are scheduled to begin next year and finish in 2014, KS says. This $30-million urban square will be called Salt to commemorate the salt ponds that Hawaiians built in this area in the 1700s, says KS development manager Linda Schatz.

“This ingenuity has become a source of inspiration,” says Schatz. “It will be the outdoor living room for the residents and tenants in that area, a place where people can hang out, gather, bump into friends. It’s on a human scale.”

Kamehameha Schools’ build-out plan for Kakaako spans 15 years and includes up to seven high-rises, with six shown in light gray in this rendering. KS says the overall redevelopment will create more than 9,000 on-site and 10,000 off-site construction jobs, with a total worker payroll of $933 million spread over 15 years.

When complete, KS says, the overall development will sustain 5,466 full-time professional and service jobs, with an annual payroll of $230 million.

Rendering: Kamehameha Schools

Howard Hughes Corp. has already spent $3.5 million renovating Ward Centre, the shopping center where a Bed Bath & Beyond store will open this fall in the space formerly occupied by Borders bookstore. HHC’s plans include a mixture of retail, residential and commercial construction projects over the next 12 years. More specifics should come in December, when the company says it hopes to announce “refinements” to the master plan created by General Growth Properties, former owners of Ward Centers. Almost daily, Striph says, he is in contact with KS, OHA, HCDA and other major players to coordinate efforts and “take a holistic view” of Kakaako.

“We’re trying to look at this as one whole area,” Striph says. “We want to make it the hottest, most vibrant residential community on Oahu. That’s our goal. We want to be really thoughtful and respectful of the community. We’re taking our time and want to do it right, reflecting the area’s history.”

KS’s master plan, completed in 2009, calls for seven residential towers, up to 400 feet high, with low-rise “podium” units surrounding them. The build-out spans 15 years but has begun with alacrity.

“We’ll have warm bodies in the lofts by the end of October,” says Bob Oda, KS senior project manager. It’s part of KS’s affordable housing commitment.

Contractors will build the market-price units in the residential towers, says Paul Quintiliani, KS commercial real estate director, while KS itself may build the rental units. “We need to hit multiple price points to create a mixed-income community.”

HCDA’s latest Kakaako master plan, just a year old, calls for mixed-density using both high-rise and low-rise residential and commercial buildings, plus parks and civic parking. The homes will potentially provide low-, medium- and market-price condos and rentals close to a range of jobs, including high-tech jobs at the John A. Burns School of Medicine, the Cancer Center of Hawaii, now under construction, and private businesses in bioscience.

So far, there have been 1,388 units built in Kakaako since 1988 that are either affordable rentals or affordable units for purchase, says HCDA. The already-built projects include three developments devoted to seniors. Another 187 affordable units are either permitted or under construction.

Kamehameha Schools, which owns seven Kakaako parcels, emphasizes the idea of “Complete Streets,” walkable avenues with cafes and small shops.

Rendering: Courtesy Kamehameha Schools

“In the early vision, it was the Blade Runner view,” says Anthony J.H. Ching, HCDA’s executive director. “We were going to be living in the stars and sky, with superblock condos connected by elevated walkways. The next permutation was mixed-use to accommodate small businesses, but still a high-rise community. But now, with (new urban-planning) rules emphasizing an active street scene, we’re back down to the street. We want people to be able to walk along, to look into the windows, to engage.

“It will be like the Whole Foods corner in Kailua – there’s a sidewalk, a living wall that softens the building, and you can walk out into the trellis area and just sit there though you’re not far away from a four-lane road. But it’s softened with a landscaped median and you feel comfortable enough to engage in a conversation. It’s casual. It encourages people to interact. Imagine if you have that kind of environment in Kakaako?”

This vision for the future includes a cultural overlay from projects envisioned by OHA on 30 acres of newly acquired state land makai of Ala Moana boulevard. The agreement, finalized July 1, transferring 10 parcels worth $200 million, largely settles the longstanding dispute between OHA and the state over shared revenues for the use of Public Land Trust lands. It sets the stage for OHA to develop affordable rental housing, a cultural center to celebrate Native Hawaiian arts, an ocean-side promenade with a string of stores, and a high-rise up to 200 feet high at 919 Ala Moana to provide space for Native Hawaiian service organizations. Additionally OHA wants perpetual access to the ocean at Kewalo Basin.

A master plan will be developed for OHA’s 10 parcels, says OHA chairwoman Colette Machado, and it’s expected to be complete within two years.

OHA has asked HCDA to pull back on plans to develop two loading dock piers in front of Fisherman’s Wharf in order to keep that waterfront open. “We want that place free, to be able to house the Hokulea and other canoes,” Machado says. “… This is a no-brainer for Hawaiians. We want unimpeded access to the shoreline. That’s why Kakaako is so important to the trustees. It’s the last valuable shoreline in Honolulu.”

However, according to Stu Glauberman, compliance assurance and community outreach officer for HCDA, Kewalo Basin’s harbor remains within the purview of HCDA. “Plans for harbor improvements have not changed nor been put on hold,” he says. Current plans call for KB Marine L.P., which has a 50-year lease, to build two wave-abatement fences and 100 mooring slips at a cost to KB of $20 million. Plans for the loading docks at Fisherman’s Wharf call for them to be built with harbor revenues and $3 million from the state revolving fund, but there’s no set timeline in place.

The final details of Kakaako’s transformation will change and be debated over the coming two decades, but the broad strokes seem guided by a vision that the major landowners share with the governor.

“What I want to see,” Abercrombie says, “is a contem-porary Hawaiian version of organic architecture in a context of urban growth, where high density in the core can be transposed into community life that reflects Hawaii and its basic values.

“If you go high, then you can disperse your density at street level, where people live, and prevent urban sprawl. It will emphasize walking, open space, view-plane corridors. You’ll see it like a village.”

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Old to new | New to old
Aug 2, 2013 11:15 am
 Posted by  Barefootnative

Aloha and mahalo for this informative article. It is exciting and encouraging to see. I would like to ask or request a list of sales agencies which will be handling the sales and leasing of the upcoming units.

Sep 21, 2013 01:39 pm
 Posted by  local resident 1

How would you accommodate the increase of residents if you can't accommodate the residents education, for all children are REQUIRED by law to go to school. For it is a severe inconvenience for a parent to get a Geographic Exception for their child every time they have to go to a new school. This also brings up the subject that there are schools there but those are not high, middle, nor are they elementary schools.
So where will the kids go to school in their district?

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