Tuesday, February 10, 2004


Land sale shutters city’s
vision of urban renewal


The City Council is being asked to approve the sale of Block J to raise enough revenue to balance the current budget.

ONCE again, the city finds itself in a desperate situation. The administration is counting on money from the sale of 2.3 acres of land in the heart of downtown to balance the current fiscal year's budget and it needs the City Council to approve the sale soon or the deal will fall through.

However, the Council as well as businesses and residents are fretting about the bidder's plans for the property, known as Block J. Instead of a grand international financial center or low-cost housing projects city leaders had hoped for in years past, the potential buyer intends to install a car dealership.

There's nothing objectionable about an auto dealership, especially since the company envisions a well-designed and landscaped enterprise. Nonetheless, it would be a letdown from the glorious vision of urban renewal the city promised 40 years ago when it condemned the land and cleared away acres of dilapidated buildings as well as structures and establishments with historic value.

Regrets aside, it appears that the Council and taxpayers have little choice but to accept the proposal. Without the proceeds from the $10.5 million sale, the city will fall short of its financial commitments.

Block J has had a troubled past. The land -- bordered by Beretania Street, Queen Emma, Kukui and the Pali Highway -- is an attractive site, smack dab in the middle of downtown. It is just a few blocks away from the state Capitol, the governor's mansion, City Hall and the financial district and within walking distance of Chinatown and other shopping areas.

In the late 1990s, it was seen as an lively anchor for the district with plans for twin residential towers with 900 affordable housing units, public parking and commercial space that would feature movie theaters and retail stores that would net the city more than $1 million a year in lease rents. Other proposals included an Asia-Pacific trade center and a park and cultural complex. But last year, after using the land as a parking lot for decades, the city -- lacking cash and loathe to raise taxes -- put it up for sale, accepting $4.5 million less than the $15 million asking price.

Budget issues have repeatedly put the city between a rock and a hard place. The funds anticipated from the sale of Block J had been a contentious point last year when the city was in dire need of revenue for police pay increases and to make up shortages in bus operations without having to raise fares. Mayor Harris and the Council went several rounds over allocating some of the sale proceeds for those purposes.

It is disturbing that this matter needs to be settled in haste. After years of lying fallow, Block J will reap for the city a one-time infusion of revenue and an large allotment of unrealized dreams.



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