Kakaako's Building Boom

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Projects Underway or Planned

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Biggest Project

Rendering: Courtesy HCDA

There will be three towers at 690 Pohukaina St., with the tallest standing 650 feet high, about 50 percent taller than Hawaii’s current highest building. Here’s what’s planned for the three towers:

This month, the Hawaii Community Development Authority will begin evaluating bids from local, mainland and foreign developers who want to create the state’s signature project at 690 Pohukaina St.

The 650-foot tower alone, on a lot also bounded by Keawe and Halekauwila streets, will include hotel rooms, market-price condos, offices and street-level shops. Construction of the total development, estimated to cost a half-billion dollars and designed to create 1,000 new housing units – half of them affordable – is projected by the state to generate 1,500 jobs over the next seven years.

Anthony J. H. Ching, executive director of HCDA, says the state agency will absorb more than a half-million dollars in upfront costs to incentivize developers.

“We are truly participating as a partner and some of our activities will reduce risk for the developer,” says Ching. “What we’ve done is say, ‘Not only do we have a piece of land that we think can be built out in this way, but we’re going to deliver entitlements. We’ll do the environmental due diligence that takes costs and risks out of the developer’s hands.’”

Ching expects HCDA to commission an environmental study in the next few months to consider the impact of the project’s increased height and density on infrastructure.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie says the tower – expected to be 221 feet taller than Hawaii’s current tallest building, the 30-story First Hawaiian Center at Bishop and King streets – will be designed to reflect Hawaii themes, such as graceful hula or ocean waves.

Developers throughout Kakaako are required to set aside 20 percent of their residential projects as affordable housing. Ching says HCDA generally defines this housing as affordable for those making between 100 and 140 percent of the area’s median income. (AMI guidelines are issued annually by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.) HCDA considers Kakaako’s AMI as $82,700 a year for a family of four; 140 percent of that is $115,780 a year. (In Honolulu overall, median household income is $70,093 a year, and, statewide, it is $66,420, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.)

However, Abercrombie has already promised that half the new housing units at 690 Pohukaina will be affordable.

For instance, according to Ching, monthly rents in Phase I at Halekauwila Place will target families who make 60 percent of AMI. Rent for a:

  • studio apartment will be about $1,042
  • one-bedroom apartment $1,116
  • two-bedroom $1,339; and
  • three-bedroom $1,548.

Affordable for-sale units at 690 Pohukaina will target families that make 100 to 140 percent of AMI, Ching says. Units will cost between $372,500 and $521,400; that means a family in that income range will spend about 28 percent of their income on housing, assuming a 5 percent down payment and a 5 percent interest rate on their mortgage.

Abercrombie says that the state will be able to keep the prices relatively low on half of the units because of the tower. “The 650-foot high-rise will enable a developer to sell enough at market prices to be able to build an equal number of affordable units and still make a profit,” he says.

Here’s HCDA’s three-phase building plan:

Phase I: 204 affordable rental units and 282 parking stalls.

Phase II: 300 affordable units, 500 market-price units, 25,000 square feet of civic space primarily to replace the current library sorting center next to Mother Waldron Park, and 10,000 square feet of rental space that could meet community needs, such as daycare operations and meeting rooms.

Phase III: 30,000 square feet intended as a high-tech business-incubator and innovation space, 30,000 square feet for other commercial uses, and 810 parking stalls.

– Beverly Creamer



Other Plans for Kakaako

A green belt along Cooke Street connecting Mother Waldron Park with Gateway Park.

HCDA has launched studies on $2 million in upgrades to the grassy Waterfront Park Amphitheater to make it more viable for revenue-producing concerts.

A hula mound for outdoor shows, similar to one at Moanalua Gardens and costing an estimated $500,000. It is a partnership between HCDA and the Levitt Foundation, and is expected to be completed by mid-2013.

Kewalo Keiki Fishing Conservancy already has a fish-tagging operation at Kewalo Basin and plans to use $2.3 million in state money authorized by the 2012 Legislature to add educational programs for children.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie envisions a research center in Kakaako that honors President Obama and is devoted to East-West collaboration.



Kakaako Investments

mid-1980s to 2010

$225 million Public investment in infrastructure
$2.2 billion Private developments
$528.9 million Public-sector development

Source: HCDA



Street Life and Creativity Already Humming

Photo: David Croxford

Kakaako already has the vibe of “the place to be” in Honolulu, whether you are talking about startups or chow downs.

Owners of the Greenhouse Innovation Hub and the Box Jelly say their co-working spaces bring together young entrepreneurs and have helped create dozens of small businesses.

At The Whole Ox on Keawe Street, Bob McGee uses up an entire grass-fed cow and two to three pigs a week for his deli sandwiches, while Hank’s Haute Dogs on Coral Street offers a gourmet array of America’s favorite comfort food.

“It’s a sweet place to be, to walk around, because you find little surprises and treats,” says attorney Jay Fidell, self-appointed Kakaako watchdog, who brought together many of Kakaako’s major players in March for a ThinkTech forum to discuss the area’s future. “There’s the connection of a community all of a sudden. You’re comfortable, you’re interested. It surprises and delights. There’s something going on!”

Fidell welcomes the young entrepreneurs, but worries about their long-term future.

“The worst analysis is it turns into a foreign investors’ retreat and all these kids are strangers in their own land,” says Fidell. “And there’s a fair chance that will happen, because, at the end of the day, it’s valuable land.

Kakaako’s people, from facing page left to far right: Bob McGee of The Whole Ox; Nikila Badua of 808Urban; Shawn “Doc” Boyd of the Greenhouse; Sean Shodahl of the R&D creativity incubator; customers at Fresh Café; Linda Schatz and Christian O’Connor of Kamehameha Schools; Jasper Wong of Pow Wow Hawaii. 

Photo: David Croxford


“If the owners want this mixed-use, affordable urban village to happen, there’s a fair chance it will. … But if the owners don’t want it, it won’t.”

The energy, creativity and idealism today are palpable. Blank concrete walls have been enlivened, with the owners’ support, by dynamic street artists, led by Jasper Wong of Pow Wow Hawaii and John Prime of 808Urban. Alan Joaquin is growing organic vegetables on the flat roof of Auto Mart USA (formerly the CompUSA building). Poni Askew organizes monthly “Eat the Street” extravaganzas that draw as many as 7,000 people to dine at more than 40 lunch wagons.

“Hawaii doesn’t have an arts district – Chinatown was trying to be one, but now it’s more of a bar and club scene – so Hawaii is in need of one,” says Wong. “Arts districts often start off in industrial zones, so Kakaako could be that perfect spot. And the best way is to put paint on walls. It’s one way of bringing art to the people. Galleries can create barriers, but this way people are forced to see it.”

“What goes up will change over time,” says Kamehameha Schools’ commercial real estate director Paul Quintiliani, “but the walls themselves will be permanent tapestries.”

KS says it is supporting the young entrepreneurs who have already settled in aging Kakaako buildings that are scheduled for redevelopment. “We’re going to need to move certain tenants and keep some where they are,” says Quintiliani. “Our goal is to minimize disruption.”

He sees these artists, chefs, poets and other creative people as the “important builders of what this community is becoming. … They’re organizing great community events that hit different niches.”

Though plans for an Asia-Pacific Innovation Center, which would have included wet labs, are on hold, Quintiliani says, KS supports a wide variety of innovations happening in Kakaako.

“We want this community to continue to grow,” says Christian O’Connor, KS assets manager. “The revitalization of Kakaako has a lot to do with the people participating in Kakaako today. Innovation is going to continue to reside in Kakaako and in different forms. We‘re continuing to foster innovation and want to bring more into Kakaako.”

Quintiliani agrees. “We’re building the community before we build the houses. … It’s happening organically.” 

But the new Kakaako will likely retain much of its old flavor, especially the grungy, flood-prone areas east of Ward Avenue, and makai and mauka of Queen Street. They’re the top enclave of car repair shops and other low-rent businesses east of downtown, with lots of small landowners who may resist redevelopment – though their land values and property taxes have more than doubled in the past 15 years.

“It’s always been like a real laid-back, nice area,” muses Nick Jones, part owner of the East Asian Basket Co. Inc., nestled on Queen Street for more than a decade. “It’s changing. For the better? Let’s hope it is. … It’s a nice area. It’s close to everything.”

– Beverly Creamer



Abercrombie’s Prophet

Photo: Hawaii Business Magazine

Prominent in Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s office is a 67-page book about Honolulu that was written in 1938, yet still reflects the governor’s current thinking on urban planning and why Kakaako is so important.

“Whither Honolulu?” was written by Lewis Mumford, a wide-ranging writer best known for his work on urban planning, city cultures and architecture. The Park Board of Honolulu and its chairman, Lester McCoy, commissioned Mumford in 1938 to recommend how Honolulu’s park system could be improved. McCoy took Mumford everywhere in Honolulu, from the expensive neighborhoods to slums, to farms and harbors, and everywhere in between.

The resulting pamphlet looked far beyond the park system and has become a manifesto for urban development in Honolulu. Mumford’s suggestions in “Whither Honolulu?” include:

Rebuilding the urban core rather than simply responding to the problems of growth and crowding by constantly expanding the city’s boundaries.

Creating a new and powerful city post—project director, a virtual equal to the mayor—who would have the authority to uproot urban blight, impose parks and create a coherent urban environment. This idea echoes the creation in 1976 of the Hawaii Community Development Authority, the independent state agency that plans and develops Kakaako.

Emphasizing Honolulu’s natural assets, including trade winds, fabulous vistas from mountain to sea, and view-plane corridors to keep these vistas open.

Good planning is not a series of isolated projects, but primarily a matter of coordination.

In Mumford’s view, “Honolulu is a little like a beautiful woman, so well assured of her natural gifts that she is not always careful of her toilet: she relies upon her splendid face and body to distract attention from her disheveled hair, her dirty fingernails or her torn skirt.”

Mumford’s book is out of print, but for those wanting to learn more, the Hawaii State Library system has five copies of “Whither Honolulu?”

By the way, Abercrombie did more than simply read Mumford. The governor’s 1974 Ph.D. dissertation in American Studies at the University of Hawaii covered Mumford and iconoclastic author Norman Mailer, and was called, “Mumford, Mailer and Machines: Staking a claim for man.” You can read a copy of that in UH’s Hamilton Library.

– Beverly Creamer

Hawaii Business magazine invites you to comment on our articles and the issues they raise. Comments are moderated for offensive language, commercial messages and off-topic posts and may be deleted. Some comments may be chosen for inclusion in the magazine on the Feedback page.

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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