Thursday, May 9, 2002

State lawmakers have approved an $8 million allocation to buy the Beretania Street site under the financially ailing Japanese Cultural Center.

State budgets
$8 mil to bail out
cultural center

Land beneath the struggling
Japanese facility in Moiliili
would be bought

By Richard Borreca

The new state budget includes plans to spend $8 million to buy the land under the financially troubled Japanese Cultural Center in Moiliili.


The money was included in the Senate version of the budget and then approved last week by both the House and Senate.

Sen. Brian Taniguchi, Ways and Means Committee chairman, said yesterday that he inserted the appropriation into the budget after learning of the problems the nonprofit center has had making its mortgage payments.

"We wanted it to remain a museum and cultural center," Taniguchi (D, Manoa) said.

Ways and Means Committee member Sam Slom (R, Kalama Valley-Aina Haina) said he was not present during conference committee meetings when he believes the item was added to the budget. If he had been, Slom said, he would have opposed it.

"That's a lot of money to be spending," he said. "This is an example of state government bailing out a private project that's hurting. Well, there's a lot of private projects that are hurting right now, but that's not our job."

The appropriation was actually included in the Senate version of the state budget that passed without opposition out of committee. In the committee vote, Slom voted with reservations and then voted against it on the Senate floor.

Susan Kodani, the center's president, said that while the center had not directly asked for the money, they welcomed state support.

"I think it was driven by one of our tenants, the Japanese Chamber of Commerce," Kodani said. "In terms of the challenges we are facing, we are very appreciative of Sen. Taniguchi."

The 2454 S. Beretania St. facility consists of two wings that contain a teahouse, a historical gallery, a resource center and library, a martial arts dojo or practice hall, a 10,000-square-foot banquet facility and a gift shop.

"We are looking at just buying the land so it can remain a cultural center," Taniguchi said.

He said he had discussions with the Japanese Chamber of Commerce about problems facing the center. Taniguchi added that the University of Hawaii had been interested in moving in to part of the center.

"I know under the UH plan the cultural center would have to move, maybe to Bishop Museum," Taniguchi said. "So it was a matter of rather than having them move, it would be better to retain it."

Since its inception in 1987, the center has been a focal point of celebrations of Japanese culture, with demonstrations during the major cultural festivals in Honolulu.

The budget also includes $3.2 million for construction of a state art gallery at the Hemmeter Center and $360,000 to replace the water circulation system for the reflecting ponds at the state Capitol.

The largest appropriation in the state construction budget is $33 million to buy the former federal building, now housing the post office, in downtown Honolulu. The building is expected to be used to house the state's Department of Commerce & Consumer Affairs while its building is renovated.

Star-Bulletin reporter Rod Antone
contributed to this report.

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