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Sunday, November 4, 2001

Hawaii’s new pastime,
economic redevelopment

EVERYBODY'S getting into the economic redevelopment act since the Sept. 11 terrorist attack. The news is full of it.

Gov. Ben Cayetano announced a plan to bring planeloads of New York rescue workers to Hawaii for free Waikiki vacations in early December.

This certainly reflects Hawaii's genuine admiration, gratitude and concern for the health and emotional recovery of the police, fire and rescue workers selected by New York Mayor Giuliani for the free trips. It also shows that people here are looking for ways to help during a national crisis.

It doesn't hurt, of course, that reports of the story of Hawaii's aloha may also reap immeasurable economic benefits by suggesting warm Hawaii getaways just as winter grips the mainland.

THEN there's the trickle-down of dollars into the local economy from the University of Hawaii's College Hill renovation project. The price of redecorating, installing ceiling fans and a new air-conditioner, patching up the floors, renovating the bathrooms, and spiffing up the guest cottage and greenhouse at the grand old Atherton family country house in Manoa has ballooned. Landscape lighting alone came to $190,000.

First estimated at less than half a million, the price tag is now more than $1 million --clearly a case of "mansion creep."

Renovating the president's house wasn't what university autonomy was supposed to be about, but exemption from state procurement rules both sped the process and kept it under wraps for two months after the Star-Bulletin requested that the details be made public.

The UH Foundation is picking up part of the tab and the project was kicked off before new UH President Evan Dobelle took over. However, many of the changes that ran up the cost came on his watch. He vows to raise funds from private sources to cover the bill.

The result should be first-class. After all, for $1 million you could still build a moderately impressive residence from scratch.

NEXT there's the Harris administration proposal before the City Council to condemn five Waikiki properties in the Lewers-Kalia area. This would allow Outrigger Enterprises to assemble the eight-acre parcel on which it plans to build its $300-million Waikiki Beach Walk hotel, retail and entertainment complex.

According to the resolution, the project will improve public facilities and, as Outrigger's Eric Masutomi said, "redevelopment could have a significant, catalytic effect on the overall economic revitalization in Waikiki."

Of course, the property owners who were holding out for better offers will have to accept whatever amounts the condemnation process arrives at for their land, which is now assessed at $32 million. Outrigger will buy the land from the city and reimburse its costs.

In the post-Sept. 11 economic climate, with Hawaii tourism facing a $1-billion shortfall in visitor spending, how can the Council resist the opportunity to do the patriotic thing to grease the wheels of economic recovery?

Outrigger's timing for its condemnation request is impeccable. Interest rates and inflation are at historic lows. Investing now to turn one of Waikiki's most congested and shopworn areas into a visitor magnet looks like a sure thing.

FINALLY, there was the prospect of the UH-Air Force football game moving to Friday afternoon, Nov. 23. While Coach June Jones says Saturday night games are ideal for the Warriors, he might be overlooking the national exposure Friday games get.

When UH played Fresno State last weekend, the score of Hawaii's upset victory was broadcast all day Saturday during other college contests, including the Nebraska-Oklahoma "game of the century." I realize getting that much exposure is unlikely except when the opponent or UH are nationally ranked -- but Jones' goal is to be in the top 25, right?

If the Fresno game had been on Saturday evening most college fans would've missed it. In fact, mainland papers would have buried the news in Monday's NFL results.

Besides providing a patriotic excuse to start our weekends early, televised Friday afternoon games give Hawaii the potential for much more national exposure.

We can use all of that we can get.

John Flanagan is the Star-Bulletin's contributing editor.
He can be reached at:

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