$650 million Kakaako project meets criticism
Concerns are being raised about beach access and how well the state is promoting high-tech
Alexander & Baldwin Inc. and the state are facing persistent opposition to their proposed Kakaako Waterfront project, a $650 million, mixed-use "urban village" to be built on taxpayer-owned oceanfront land.
It remains to be seen, however, whether the concerns will stop the project. Some of the discontent is rising from predictable quarters: citizens concerned about beach access and the proposed development of 950 condominiums that would be a key component of the project. The criticism flared this week at the monthly meeting of the Ala Moana/Kakaako Neighborhood Board.
Concerns also are simmering among boosters of Hawaii's science and technology sectors, who are pushing to transform Kakaako into a life sciences hub anchored by the University of Hawaii's newly built John A. Burns School of Medicine.
"Clearly from the vocal community response at the neighborhood board meeting, there is a need for further discussion about land use in makai Kakaako," said Lisa Gibson, president of the Hawaii Life Sciences Council, a nonprofit organization established to promote development of the state's biomedical sector.
Another issue is whether the state is adequately promoting Kakaako as a center for innovation, said Gibson, who attended the neighborhood board meeting but made no public comments. "The Hawaii Life Sciences Council believes that science and technology should be part of a sustainable 'live, work, play, learn' vision for Kakaako. We would be happy to play a role in facilitating that discussion."
The 37-acre site is on the ocean side of Ala Moana between downtown and the Ala Moana Center, next to a 20-acre oceanfront public park and the Children's Discovery Center.
Having been selected from a field of 15 original bidders, A&B is in a four-month period of talks with the state that could lead to the signing of a letter of intent to develop the project. A&B's proposal includes residential and retail properties, a farmers market, a refurbished waterfront park, amphitheater, marina and pedestrian bridge over Kewalo Basin.
A&B also plans to create more parking for surfers, plus a separate parking area for condo residents and shoppers. A&B expects the development would have approximately 3,000 parking spaces, although it says that number could rise if more spaces seem necessary.
At the Ala Moana neighborhood board meeting on Tuesday, residents fired questions and accusatory statements at Daniel Dinell, executive director of the Hawaii Community Development Authority, the state agency that governs development in Kakaako.
Nancy Hedlund, a neighborhood board member concerned about the project, said she blames the state, not A&B.
"I think people are correctly perceiving that the issue is not with A&B," said Hedlund. "The things that people are concerned about is the way that HCDA has gone about their business. Whether it's legal or not to do it, (the project) has certainly gone against the will of the people who care about the water, who care about the park and who care about the way the land is used."
In a speech that summed up worries of several other residents at the meeting, Lainie Tomoshiro said she was worried whether the condominiums would be affordable for local people, and whether a high-rise building was appropriate close to the shoreline.
"Who made this decision and when was it made?" she asked.
Dinell said that the vision of Kakaako as a mixed-use development had been established by the state Legislature when it created the HCDA in the 1970s. During the past few years, Dinell said, the agency has held a series of public meetings to discuss the project and outlined the HCDA's intentions in requests for proposals from developers. The HCDA also selected A&B's plan according to state procurement law, Dinell said.
Dinell acknowledged that the condominium plan has drawn criticism. But he said local residents are an essential component of what the state is trying to create: an area that will have the right kind of energy to attract locals.
"The residents aren't just about an economic driver," said Dinell. "They're about a social driver, too."
"It's about making this the cool, hip, attractive area for local people," he added. "And if it's successful for locals, the visitors will follow, but not vice versa, and that's a key consideration here."
Dinell also said the state is working with the Hawaii Life Sciences Council and other entities to help develop facilities for the biomedical sector. The HCDA is working to make 5.5 acres available for a proposed University of Hawaii cancer research center in Kakaako and is working with the medical school to create l90,000 square feet of research space at its facility. The state also is working with Kamehameha Schools to help develop more lab space in the area, Dinell said.
A&B spokeswoman Meredith Ching said, "We believe our proposed project is completely compatible with and, in fact, essential to the successful establishment of a life-science or high-tech base in the area."
Dinell said it would be hard to do anything but give A&B a fair chance to do the job.
"You can't just start a process and change your mind halfway down it," he said.
If the HCDA and A&B cannot agree on terms of the letter of intent, Dinell said the state could either give A&B more time, reject the company in favor of another developer or drop the request for proposals altogether.