Thursday, March 6, 2003

An architect's rendering shows a proposed Kakaako aquarium complex near Kewalo Basin.

The age of aquarium

Kakaako and Ko Olina
both want to get tanked

By Russ Lynch

A proposal for an aquarium on the Kakaako waterfront moved forward yesterday when the agency responsible for the redevelopment of the area gave broad acceptance to ideas proposed by an international company.

The Hawaii Community Development Authority board instructed its staff to develop an agreement with KUD International LLC, a subsidiary of Kajima USA, which in turn is part of Japan-owned Kajima Corp.

KUD is proposing a six-story aquarium complex, a marine research facility for the University of Hawaii and a commercial biomedical research facility on land next to Kewalo Basin.

Mentioning another plan for an aquarium at the Ko Olina Resort in West Oahu, the head of KUD cautioned the HCDA board not to let an aquarium become a victim of turf battles.

"A project as important as this one should never be a victim of political football," said Marvin J. Suomi, KUD president and chief executive officer.

Board members voted unanimously to keep working with KUD on the aquarium plan, to the exclusion of other developers.

But can the island cannot support two similar aquariums?

"No, probably not," Suomi said.

Ko Olina developer Jeff Stone agrees, but says he and his partners were told by HCDA and the University of Hawaii that the Kakaako project would be primarily a research facility.

However, the proposal yesterday made it look much more like a tourist attraction. If that is the case, "we would be doing something twice that only needs to be done once," Stone said.

KUD's Suomi said his company's proposal calls for a research facility as well as an attraction for tourists and residents. He said the Kakaako facility's mission is to educate and conduct research as well as being "a world-class attraction" for tourists.

Both projects are seeking tax credits. Ko Olina is looking for $75 million in tax credits over 10 years. Kakaako is seeking $40 million in state revenue bonds to be repaid from the aquarium's earnings. In addition it would seek existing benefits under Act 221, a state law designed to encourage investment in technology.

Stone said the Ko Olina proposal would bring in millions of dollars in investments in hotels and other facilities, which would generate 10,000 construction jobs and 2,000 permanent jobs.

Jan Yokota, executive director of the HCDA, said the word "aquarium" is being used fairly broadly and the two projects are not the same.

"I don't view it as a political football," she said. "One is more focused on education and research and the other on an attraction tied together with hotel and timeshare."

"It's not the same concept that's being looked at," she said.

Officials at yesterday's meeting stressed that a specific Kakaako plan has not been approved. Instead, KUD is to develop a specific plan, subject to review by the HCDA board.

KUD intends to do the overall development, arrange the financing and sell the various parts to new owner/operators, who in turn would get ground leases from HCDA.

A Kakaako aquarium would focus on research, planners say.

KUD and its architects presented a detailed preliminary view of what they believe aquarium complex will look like.

Chuck Davis, a principal in San Francisco-based architectural firm Esherick Homsey Dodge and Davis created an initial design for the 10.3-acre site at Point Panic, at the entrance to Kewalo Basin.

First is a six-story building of 120,000 to 150,000 square feet for the aquarium, featuring a live-coral fish tank the top floor, other marine exhibits throughout and a 500,000 gallon ground-level tank to display bigger fish such as sharks and manta rays.

The complex would also include a display of live monk seals and sea turtles.

There would be restaurants and shops and a new tree-lined entrance street. A promenade would be kept open for the public along the waterfront with the aquarium set back from it, Davis said.

Parking for 1,100 cars would be provided in separate buildings to serve the aquarium with 700 slots and the other facilities with 400.

"The one place in the world that deserves a world-class aquarium is Hawaii," Davis said.

KUD has been working with the University of Hawaii to take the existing Pacific Biomedical Research Center's marine laboratory on the Kakaako point and move it to a bigger location within the development site.

The third part of its plan is a private commercial research center related to marine science as well as UH's John A. Burns School of Medicine. Recent work by KUD has included Pacific Bell Park, home of the San Francisco Giants, and the Long Beach Aquarium.

The KUD representatives described the Kakaako Aquarium as a "successor" to the Waikiki Aquarium, which is owned by the University of Hawaii.

Cindy Hunter, a Waikiki Aquarium spokeswoman, said there is no plan to close the aquarium but if the Kakaako project is completed, it would become the UH aquarium, meaning an eventual end to the Waikiki operation.

No timetable has been set for the Kakaako development.

Kajima Corp.
Esherick Homsey Dodge and Davis
Hawaii Community Development Authority

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