trying to stay afloat
A sea of change surrounds theBy Peter Wagner
restaurant as the state mulls a
$138 million Kewalo Basin project
THE tides of change are churning around Fisherman's Wharf, a well-seasoned restaurant overlooking the Kewalo fishing fleet for nearly 50 years.
Nudged by a road project running through its back parking lot and dangling by a month-to-month lease, the former Spencecliff Corp. restaurant is clearly in the path of progress.
If current plans are approved, Fisherman's Wharf could be gone by next summer, making way for underground parking, a retail complex and a brightly lit Ferris Wheel. Out of a chain of 26 Spencecliff restaurants built in the 1950s and bought by Japan-based Nittaku Investment Inc. in 1986, Fisherman's Wharf would be the last to go.
The restaurant is said to be negotiating for space in the new "Kewalo Pointe" project, a prospect that doesn't sit well with some patrons drawn by the ambience of the 47-year-old restaurant.
"You can't stop progress," shrugged Norman Harris, a regular customer ambling out of the restaurant last week. "But it's a landmark. I'll be sad."
Meanwhile, with its flapping flags, brass diving bell, neon Ahi sign and lacquered artifacts, Fisherman's Wharf is holding a steady course.
"We're content to keep chugging along," said Steven Ching, attorney for the restaurant.
Sales were down 10 percent last year, a reflection of slumping tourism and a slow economy. But the restaurant, opened in 1952 by the late restaurateur Spence Weaver, is hoping to ride out the storm.
"Everybody says that in about a year and a half the economy's going to turn around," said Sonny Morihara, general manager at Fisherman's Wharf. "That's what we're hoping for."
The Hawaii Community Development Authority is considering a $138 million project proposed by businessman D.G. "Andy" Anderson to clear a 10-acre strip along Kewalo Basin for a complex of shops, restaurants and a Ferris Wheel. Kewalo Pointe would be built on a single-level, 1,200-car underground parking lot stretching from Fisherman's Wharf to John Dominis, Anderson's restaurant near the harbor entrance.
A number of approvals, lease negotiations, and other hurdles lie ahead, including a problem with ground contamination on at least one property where fishing boats were fueled.
The project would displace nearly a dozen businesses along Ahui Street, to be relocated to a "Fishing Village" under construction at piers 37 and 38 on Honolulu Harbor. The $13.7 million state project will include a loading pier, seven small buildings and a large multi-purpose building to be leased to fish processing companies and a fish auction business.
But orchestrating the move could be tricky as Anderson pushes to get his project rolling. Originally targeted for December 2000, the state Department of Transportation recently asked for a 14-month extension of its deadline to begin clearing its Kewalo property along Ahui Street. State Harbors Division officials say the village is on target for completion by September 2000, but more time will be needed to prepare for tenants.
"We're rushing to get the fishing village finished as soon as possible," said Fred Nunes, engineering branch manager at the state Harbors Division.
A 500-foot loading pier under construction is targeted for next May, he said. The pier will be used to unload fishing boats now operating at Kewalo Basin. The boats themselves would remain at Kewalo.
Mike Irish, president of Diamond Head Seafood, a fish processing company near Fisherman's Wharf, is not anxious to make the move.
"From a business standpoint, I'd like to stay here," he said. "It would be nice to keep this area fish-related. But the state needs to do something different to maximize the value of this property."
The state collects about $268,000 in annual rents among the affected properties.
Standing in the way of Anderson's plan, however, is the Kewalo Shipyard, alone among the waterfront properties with a long-term lease. The shipyard, operated by Honolulu Marine Inc., has a state lease that expires in 2021. The facility, which services commercial fishing boats and other vessels, is in the middle of the 10-acre strip of state land.
Anderson said the company has approached him to be a partner in Kewalo Pointe. But company officials told the Star-Bulletin they have no plans to leave.
"There has been no real discussion about us moving," said Charles Pierce, president of Honolulu Marine.
Anderson's tentative plan is to develop properties around the shipyard, hoping to solve the problem along the way. "Something will happen," he said.
While the project has yet to gain a firm commitment, Kewalo Pointe is the only proposal now before the Authority, the state agency responsible for Kakaako development, including about 200 acres of state land along the waterfront from Kewalo to the Aloha Tower.
If a development contract and leases are approved, Anderson said, he'll start by tearing down Fisherman's Wharf next year to begin construction of the underground parking lot.
"If all goes extremely well, we could break ground next June with completion two years later," he said.
Tenants on state property along the Kewalo waterfront that would be displaced by the proposed Kewalo Pointe project:
United Fishing Agency
Diamond Head Seafood Co.
M. Kane's Fish Market
Ahi Fishing Co.
Korean Fishing Association
Hawaiian Seafood Packers
Pacific Island Seafood