When Victoria Ward Ltd. Chief Executive Mitch D'Olier set out to redevelop the company's Kakaako lands eight years ago, local developers were skeptical.
Victoria Ward Ltd. is taking
a formerly sleepy shopping center
and generating a retail buzz
By Rick Daysog
Back then, the landowner's tenants included a hodge-podge of light industry, warehouses and small retailers. Its biggest tenant, GEM of Hawaii, had just shut down, unable to compete with mall department stores and the big box retailers.
"At the time, a lot of people didn't think his plan would work because they were so convinced that the big shopping center was the only model," said Francis Oda, chairman and chief executive officer of Group 70 Ltd., the landowner's architect. "But he persisted with a vision and now that people are seeing the vision come to pass, they're very supportive."
That persistence is paying off in a big way.
Victoria Ward, once the laggard of Hawaii's retailing centers, now is teeming with shoppers and moviegoers flocking to trendy shop and restaurants, and a new 16-screen movie theater. As other isle retailers and shopping centers pull back because of the fallout from Sept. 11, the Ward project aims to buck the trend.
On Thursday, D'Olier announced that fashion retailer Nordstrom Inc. signed a letter of intent to open a 150,000-square-foot department store in 2005.
The full-line department store, which is expected to add hundreds of retail and constructions jobs to Hawaii's struggling economy, would anchor Victoria Ward's planned $200 million redevelopment of its 65 acres of land in Kakaako.
That plan also calls for 400,000 square feet of new retail along with a high-rise condominium development.
The landlord's development concept, if anything, hopes to avoid many of the characteristics of the mega-malls.
Known as an "urban street experience," Victoria Ward aims to create a cozy, Main Street setting that combines open-air restaurants, sidewalk cafes and theaters with small, local and national brand-name retailers.
Gone are the monolithic concrete barriers and massive parking lots that give many of today's shopping malls an impersonal feel.
While much of Victoria Ward's plans are in the conceptual stage, one idea is to build a two- or three-level Nordstrom store at the ewa end of Ward Warehouse. That would create minimal disruption to Ward Wardhouse's current tenants since much of that site is occupied by a large parking structure.
Over the longer term, the landowner also is taking a close look at building residential units on a parcel of land in bordered by Auahi and Queen Streets, behind Sports Authority and Consolidated's Ward 16 Theatres. Warehouse buildings currently occupy that parcel.
Victoria Ward also is looking at residential development near the corner of Ala Moana and Queen Street, the current site of the IBM office building.
In this scheme, Auahi Street will serve as an integral role, as it runs through the center of the complex and connects with a host of walking paths and side streets to increase traffic flow.
"What we are trying to create is place that is a heart of a community ... where people gather in a civic and recreational way," said Group 70's Oda.
Jan Yokota, executive director of the Hawaii Community Development Authority, which oversees development activity in Kakaako, said she is impressed by way Victoria Ward has embraced the street-retail concept.
She pointed to the popularity of open-air tenants like Dixie Grill, Kua Aina Sandwich Shop and Starbucks Coffee.
"I think most people would agree that they've made some big strides in developing the area," Yokota said. "If you think about what Victoria Ward's properties looked like three years ago, you'll see that there's been a tremendous change."
Yokota said she's also encouraged by the recent cooperative spirit between Kakaako's big landowners: Victoria Ward, Kamehameha Schools and the state of Hawaii.
The three organizations recently teamed up to jointly plan their properties in Kakaako -- which was unheard of in past years when they often competed for tenants and development plans.
The two landowners and the University of Hawaii recently agreed to hire a nationally respected urban design firm -- New York-based Cooper, Robertson & Partners a to craft a unified plan for their lands.
In addition to Victoria Ward's proposal, the Kamehameha Schools plans to build a $100 million high-tech office complex at the current site of Honolulu Ford while the university wants to build a $300 million biomedical research facility on state lands near Kakaako Waterfront Park.
Those developments have the potential of fueling new developments in Kakaako, said Scott McCormack, managing director of the commercial real estate firm of CB Richard Ellis Hawaii.
"This is the only way great urban centers are built," said McCormack, who also serves as chairman of the Urban Land Institute's Hawaii District Council, which organization that promotes smart planning policies.
"I think there is a sense of great unity and desire to partner."