Wednesday, May 1, 2002

Isle trade center
gets a new life

A World Trade Center on
Kapiolani picks up
on a 30-year-old idea

By Russ Lynch

An importer of luxury foreign cars is setting out to bring to fruition a World Trade Center in Hawaii, an idea that has been around for more than 30 years.

The center would be a 40-story retail and commercial building at the mauka-ewa corner of Ward Avenue and Kapiolani Boulevard. Auto dealer Joe Nicolai, whose Wholesale Motors Inc. is developing the project, said it will be 400 feet high, placing it among the tallest buildings in the state.

It could be built by late next year, he told a news conference yesterday in Gov. Ben Cayetano's office.

The base of the new high rise will be a 60,000-square-foot "galleria" of automobile showrooms taking up the first three levels of the building, Nicolai said. Each will have an ethnic architectural element, he said. Japanese brands, for example, will be in an area with sushi and sake bars. Above the galleria would be high-class office space occupied, organizers hope, by international firms.

To Cayetano, the important thing is the potential for an international marketplace for Hawaii's special knowledge, such as consulting services in a wide range of specialties.

Former DBEDT official Shelley Mark, credited by Cayetano for his background work on the idea, said later that it has been around since 1970.

Nicolai said there are still hurdles to be crossed. For a start, the details of his relationship with the state's right to the World Trade Center designation have yet to be ironed out. Cayetano said Nicolai's group will initially rent the name for the new building. Hawaii paid $100,000 almost a decade ago for the franchise that allows it to use the designation.

Nicolai declined to say what the center might cost, or to discuss financing, but said construction will be expensive. The center will have advanced technology, with an emphasis on energy efficiency. Tenants could include Hawaii businesses with overseas interests or foreign businesses wanting offices in Hawaii, said Nicolai.

CB Richard Ellis, a commercial real estate firm, will help in the development and leasing, company Vice President Andres Albano Jr. said.

Albano said he expects the Honolulu office vacancy rate, now about 13 percent, will drop to 10 percent or less by the time the building is available. The class, location and technology of the building will generate lease rents 20 percent to 40 percent higher than rates in other Honolulu buildings, he said.

Cayetano and Nicolai said they have no concern about using the name, after the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York. On the contrary, Cayetano said, the name will underscore the safety of Hawaii as a place to do business.

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