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