Saturday, October 19, 2002

Sale of Japanese center
in Moiliili is delayed

Groups appeal to the community
for money to avoid foreclosure

By Leila Fujimori

A membership vote to approve the sale of the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii's Moiliili property was delayed yesterday because of a lack of a quorum.

The deadline for acceptance of an $11 million purchase agreement was yesterday, but the buyer, New Hope Christian Fellowship, says it doesn't know if the deadline will be extended.

The center's 1,935 members were mailed notification of the vote. A vote could not be taken because only 129 members were in attendance -- not enough to meet the 10 percent quorum requirement of 195.

The center is about $9 million in debt, delinquent on mortgage payments, property taxes, payments to vendors and a private loan.

The Committee to Save the Center, made up of former chairmen of the board and other prominent center members, received 640 proxy votes to stop the sale, said Walter Tagawa, a former board chairman and committee member.

The cultural center's board met privately after the general membership meeting and agreed to allow the Committee to Save the Center to act as an ad hoc committee to raise funds to meet a Dec. 31 deadline by the bank to pay off its loans before foreclosing on the property.

After the private meeting, Colbert Matsumoto, board member and a member of the committee, said the board recognized it needs to work together with the committee, which has been formulating a plan, identifying potential donors and developing a strategy to save the center, he said.

"We are appealing to the community at large because the center provides benefits to the (entire) community," he said. "We expect the Japanese community to help with the effort."

New Hope Christian Fellowship made the purchase offer, but the board kept the buyer's identity secret because of a confidentiality clause in the purchase agreement.

Elwin Ahu, New Hope's pastor and a former Circuit Court judge, said he was aware no vote could be taken, but did not know whether his church would extend the deadline for the offer.

"We're just going to have to consider what the options are," he said.

Ahu said he could not comment on the proposal because of the confidentiality clause.

The Committee to save the Center had complained members could not make an informed decision because the board had withheld information on the sale, including the identity of the buyer.

They fear the buyer might restrict the center's access to the South Beretania Street facility for its programs.

Board chairman Don Takaki told members: "It's been a very emotional situation for all of us. In trying to decide, we all vacillated a lot, ... but from a business perspective, we need to sell."

He said the issue has been divisive and if prolonged, would splinter the community.

Matsumoto told the group that until he joined the board last summer, he was unaware of the center's financial situation.

"I don't know if the financial information was communicated to all the members," Matsumoto said. "That may be part of the problem, but now that we know, it's time we do something about it because the clock is ticking."

To make a donation to save the center, call Walter Tagawa at 737-4338 ext. 224 or Albert Miyasato at 595-4574. The Japanese Chamber of Commerce is not involved in the possible sale of the cultural center building.

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