The bill aims to put a senior citizens center at the same site of a planned student “live, learn and work” hub at the former Atherton YMCA
Editor’s Note: Nathan Bek is a Hawaii Business Magazine intern and a UH Shidler College of Business student
UH’s plan to turn Atherton House, a former YMCA property across from the Mānoa campus, into an entrepreneurial student center has encountered an obstacle. Two state Senate committees approved a bill on Jan. 30 that would appropriate funds to turn it into a senior citizens center.
John Han, COO of the UH Foundation, which owns the property, described the university’s plan for the property in written testimony on Jan. 30 to the Senate committees on Higher Education and Human Services. “In 2017, UHF borrowed $8.2 million to purchase Charles Atherton House. The goal was to provide student housing for UH Mānoa and support UH’s long term success,” he wrote.
Susan Yamada, director of UH Ventures, says the plan is to build a “live, learn and work” innovation center for the university’s entrepreneurs across University Avenue from the Shidler College of Business.
Preliminary plans by Hunt Development Group include dormitory rooms for 300 students and about 10,000 square feet for classrooms, coworking and private meeting rooms, a cafeteria, incubation space, maker spaces and an event space, Yamada says. Target date for completion is 2023.
The Mānoa Neighborhood Board approved the plan in November, 9-1.
The project would be privately funded by the investment company RBC, which would sell bonds to finance the project. “We’re not looking to the Legislature, the state, the county or anybody to finance the build,” Yamada says.
Senate bill 2574 would appropriate funding toward the development of a kūpuna center at the same location of the live, learn, work center. The Senate Committee on Higher Education, chaired by Donna Mercado Kim, approved the bill by a vote of 5-0 after its first public hearing on Jan. 30.
On that same day, the Human Services Committee, chaired by Russell E. Ruderman, passed the bill 4-0.
The bill says the site needs “development, ideally in service to the community in a way that meets the needs of the many seniors in Mānoa Valley in the area surrounding the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa.” It does not say how much money would be appropriated.
Kim did not respond to multiple requests by email and phone for comment. She and Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz were among 12 senators who sponsored the legislation; Dela Cruz also did not respond to multiple requests by email and phone.
Dela Cruz is a champion of a project in his Wahiawā district that would convert a vacant warehouse into a lab for student entrepreneurs at Leeward Community College interested in starting or working in agricultural businesses.
In written testimony against Senate bill 2574, Kalbert K. Young, the UH Systems’ CFO and VP for budget and finance, wrote: “If the Legislature is interested in supporting a university-led senior living or assisted living educational program, an alternative site should be of consideration.”
The student project would closely follow the model created by the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute, an innovation center at the University of Utah. Both are designed to run without public funding while accelerating entrepreneurial growth in both the university and community.
Since opening in 2016, the institute has operated at full occupancy and recently was only able to accept about one-fourth of its many applicants, according to the Lassonde website.
Part of the bill’s proposal suggested that the kūpuna center would help to provide opportunities for work and research for kūpuna healthcare. It is intended to support UH Mānoa programs like social work and public health. The bill also mentions the involvement of the UH Pharmacy School, which is in Hilo, and the John A. Burns School of Medicine and the UH Cancer Center, which are both in Kaka‘ako.
Yamada says so much time and money has already been invested in the proposed innovation center that it would be a shame to change its scope now. “Thousands of hours have been put in by the various entities: the university, the foundation, the developers, the architects and people talking to the community. A significant investment has already been made.”