FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
The catamaran Makani sails out of the channel entrance to Kewalo Basin. A proposed pedestrian bridge over the entrance has some sailors concerned about boat access.
Bridging this gap
Complaints from sailors have caused Alexander & Baldwin to modify plans for a proposed pedestrian bridge across the mouth of Kewalo Basin harbor
WHEN JON JEPSON sailed his new $1.8 million catamaran, the Makani, into the Kewalo Basin harbor in August, it marked the end of a three-year quest to finance and build the 65-foot boat.
But now, just as he prepares to launch his sailing excursions, Jepson faces the specter of another potential hurdle: a proposed pedestrian bridge across the harbor.
The bridge is a visual centerpiece of Alexander & Baldwin Inc.'s $650 million, mixed-use development proposed for land surrounding the harbor and adjacent areas of Kakaako. State officials overseeing the development see the bridge as a key component of the project, one that will serve pedestrians and symbolize Kakaako's renaissance.
Alexander & Baldwin, meanwhile, is now studying alternatives to its original proposal, which called for a bridge approximately 40 to 45 feet above the water. The most likely alternative appears to be a drawbridge, but executives are also considering no bridge at all.
For their part, Jepson and some other sailors say they're perplexed by the notion of building the bridge to begin with. Jepson said he's delighted about Alexander & Baldwin's Kakaako Waterfront project, which would revitalize largely run-down industrial areas of the neighborhood into an "urban village" with 947 residential condominiums, shops and park space.
The problem, Jepson said, is the bridge.
"We knew they were going to do this development; we envisioned it happening -- that's why we chose this slip," Jepson said last week while standing on the deck of the Makani, which was docked in the harbor just off Ala Moana Boulevard. "But then we come back (to Hawaii) and find out they're building a 45-foot pedestrian bridge that won't let us out of here."
Bridge serves two purposes
Although a bridge that could hinder sailboat access to a harbor might seem like a patently bad idea, Daniel Dinell, who runs the state agency overseeing development of Kakaako on behalf of the state taxpayers, makes a compelling case for it.
The bridge will serve two purposes, said Dinell, who is executive director of the Hawaii Community Development Authority. First, Dinell said, it will link the Kakaako oceanfront and Ala Moana Beach Park, creating a pedestrian and cycling path from Kakaako to Waikiki.
Second, Dinell said, the bridge will be a visual centerpiece of the development, an icon of the new Kakaako. Dinell compares the bridge to the Sundial Bridge over the Sacramento River in Redding, Calif. Designed by the renowned architect Santiago Calatrava, the bridge has a 217-foot pylon that works as a mammoth sundial, casting a shadow on an outdoor plaza at one end of the bridge.
A main goal of the HCDA is to develop such public amenities without forcing the taxpayers to foot the bill for the improvements.
GROUP 70 INTERNATIONAL INC.
An early artist's rendering of what a pedestrian bridge could look like linking the Kakaako and Kewalo waterfronts as part of the A&B Properties project.
Although critics have decried a term of the proposed deal that would allow Alexander & Baldwin to buy some of the most valuable undeveloped public land in Honolulu for the condominiums it plans to build and sell, Alexander & Baldwin also will have to spend substantial amounts of money to build public spaces that produce no revenue.
Such space will help distinguish Kakaako from the dense, tourist-driven developments of Waikiki, Dinell said. Twenty percent of the condominiums developed in Kakaako will be set aside as affordable housing for locals, he said. Furthermore, Dinell said, about 20 percent of the land in Kakaako will be reserved as park space, making Kakaako less densely populated than Waikiki. Other proposed amenities meant to attract and serve locals are a farmers market and an open-air amphitheater for hula performances.
The bridge would be yet another amenity, Dinell said.
"There are areas around the world that have been energized by these kinds of bridges," Dinell said. "I'm not suggesting that Hawaii needs to copy (Redding,) California. But the point is, a bridge can be much more than a functional structure; it can make a statement about the present and the future."
Boat access a concern
Sailors are less concerned about this lofty vision than whether they'll simply be able to get their boats in and out of the harbor.
Some said the idea seemed so ill-conceived that they suspected it would never fly.
"I figured it was a pipe dream myself," said Kelly Faulkner, owner and captain of the Royal Hawaiian catamaran, whose mast rises some 60 feet off the water, or about 15 to 20 feet higher than the 40 to 45 foot height of the bridge as it was originally planned.
The effectiveness of a drawbridge only goes so far, said James "Komodo" Speight, first mate on the Emeraude, an 80-foot sailboat whose 110-foot mast makes it the tallest in the Kewalo Basin harbor.
"What happens when it's 3 o'clock in the morning and there's a storm and we can't reach the harbormaster (to open the drawbridge)?" Speight said. "I think the A&B people are flexible enough to say, 'The bridge is a bad idea.'"
Alexander & Baldwin isn't saying that just yet.
Instead, the company is studying the harbor and trying to devise a plan that will work for everybody, said Cathy Camp, director of acquisitions for A&B Properties, Alexander & Baldwin's real estate subsidiary.
The harbor is owned by the HCDA and managed by the Hawaii Department of Transportation's Harbors Division. Under the proposed development agreement, A&B Properties would take over management of the harbor under a lease with the authority, and A&B would be responsible for the harbor improvements.
A&B has been in talks with Westrec Marinas of Encino, Calif., to run the harbor. But Camp said A&B needs to complete its due diligence on the harbor before it enters any deal with Westrec or any other harbor manager.
There's large demand and limited supply of harbor space in Honolulu, especially for commercial sail and fishing boats that cater to tourists, Camp said. Indeed, the sailboat captains say the Kewalo Basin harbor is the most practical one for them to use to reach the tourists of Waikiki. The state-owned Ala Wai harbor is not open to commercial vessels.
The harbor has 29 acres of water surface and just more than 100 slips, Dinell said. A&B is assessing whether that means there's enough space to expand the number of slips in the harbor and thereby serve more vessels and produce more revenue. The last thing A&B wants to do is limit access for any of the sailboats that use the harbor, or those that might want to use the harbor in the future, Camp said.
The alternatives appear limited. A bridge high enough for tall ships to pass under could create challenges for all but the most hardy walkers, who would have to climb a small mountain of stairs before crossing the bridge. This has led the company to consider a drawbridge, Camp said. A&B is studying the feasibility of such a bridge, including the costs to design, build and operate it, Camp said.
"At this point, we are a short time away from finding out that information," she said.
Stanley Kuriyama, chief executive of A&B Properties, said a bridge might prove unfeasible.
"I think that's an option one has to consider," he said.
A&B is supposed to have those and other questions answered by mid-January, which is the company's deadline for signing a letter of intent with the HCDA. Notwithstanding his enthusiasm for the bridge, Dinell said he's aware of the potential problems it poses for the harbor and the people who use it.
"I understand the issues around the bridge; if you've got tall-masted vessels, you've obviously got to accommodate them," he said. "Our goal is to enhance the Kewalo Basin amenities, as well as the business opportunities for the commercial operators who are in there."
A&B has a lot at stake
A&B has a big interest in making sure the project works. Even if it reserves 20 percent of its 947 condos for affordable home buyers, A&B nonetheless would have more than 750 luxury, oceanfront condominiums to sell at market rates. With luxury retail condominiums selling for $1 million and more these days, that adds up to more than enough potential revenue to offset the projected $650 million development costs.
With such a mammoth project at stake, A&B is aggressively addressing citizen concerns.
One who has been won over is Chad Michael Allenbaugh, president and chief executive of Diamond Head Pacific Group Inc., which operates the largest fleet of private yachts in Hawaii.
When Allenbaugh first heard about the bridge and saw an initial artist's rendering of it, he was concerned. After consulting A&B's Web site and talking with A&B executives, Allenbaugh said he is satisfied.
"What they told me was that the bridge would be able to accommodate moving boats," said Allenbaugh, whose fleet includes the tall-masted Elara, which is berthed in the Kewalo Basin harbor. "I own a slip in the marina, and I would have a problem if it didn't allow masted vessels through."
Jim Campbell, a retired state court judge from Minnesota who is Jepson's partner in the Makani, was less sanguine. Campbell said he had spoken about the bridge with A&B Vice President Mike Wright, who told Campbell that the Makani was "exactly the kind of operation we'd like in the harbor."
That gives Campbell a degree of comfort, he said.
"We're certainly concerned, but not panicking," Campbell said. "We're confident that common sense will prevail."