A jewel could emerge from wasteland in Kakaako
THERE has been a lively public debate regarding the future of Kakaako Makai, and there are a number of areas where most people agree. The property, which has the potential to be the jewel of Honolulu, currently is an industrial wasteland that needs to be cleaned up, and Kewalo Basin hasn't seen any real improvements in 30 years.
People want more public access to the shoreline, more park space and more parking for park users. The concept of a farmers' market where local products would be sold also has been well received. And what is perhaps the most exciting aspect of the project for me is that there would be a place for native Hawaiians to practice and showcase their culture.
It would be great if these improvements to Kakaako Makai could be built without regard to cost, but that is nothing more than wishful thinking. The fact is that the state government has higher priorities at present for its monies -- social services, education and more. To overcome this limitation and turn dreams and wishes into realities, the Hawaii Community Development Authority is working to create a public-private partnership that can accomplish things government is not equipped to do on its own. It is this aspect of the plan that many people object to.
We need to measure this project against three different bottom lines. What are the project's social, environmental and economic costs and benefits? In each case, do the benefits outweigh the costs? I believe they do.
BUILDING a new community -- including places for residents to live, shop and enjoy a range of cultural and recreational opportunities -- in the heart of urban Honolulu near the ocean is an exciting prospect. Many Oahu residents will want to live there. For some it will be an opportunity to move into town to avoid the commute between Central and Leeward Oahu and downtown. The inclusion of residences means the area will be "alive" all day and evening, seven days a week. It will be a real community, and one that is inviting not only to those who live in it, but to people from all over Oahu.
As for the environment, this project provides the means to clean up this former industrial site that housed the city incinerator and city dump. In addition, a project like this, which provides residences in a previously underutilized, unsettled area in the heart of the city, will allow us to provide much-needed homes for local residents while keeping the country country.
THE RESIDENTIAL component is perhaps the most controversial. To make economic sense, about six out of Kakaako Makai's 200-plus acres would have to be sold to pay for the improvements that most of us agree would be great to make. Without these residences, the project just doesn't make financial sense. And, as I just pointed out, the residences are a big part of what brings the whole project alive. To me, therefore, the residential component, like the project's social and environmental benefits, is also a plus.
We local people are right to ask what's in this project for us. It is an unfortunate reality that many developments in Hawaii have been built without regard to the people and the surrounding community. Fortunately, Alexander & Baldwin's proposal is far from typical. A&B's planning process was conducted on the premise that this project would be for local people. Since its selection was announced, A&B has conducted a major outreach campaign to ask the public for comments and input on its initial proposal. And, in response to community input, the company has proposed significant changes to its initial plans that reduce the amount of development on the site.
WITH THIS development, we have the opportunity to connect our Hawaiian past to our future in a way that authentically expresses important aspects of the host culture. The beautiful oceanfront park space will be dedicated to a hula and performing arts facility. It will be a permanent home where we can practice the culture that makes Hawaii a unique place, and pass it on to our children.
The bottom line is that this project, with a healthy balance of residential, commercial and recreational uses and its strong social, environmental and economic bottom lines, will be unlike anything that has ever come before. It has the potential to be the standard that future projects are compared to.
Peter Apo, a founding member and director of culture and education at the Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association, is a consultant to the A&B Properties team selected by HCDA to develop the Kakaako Waterfront Project.