This image, released in January 2005, shows design plans for the Grand Ko Olina Interactive Aquarium's Adventure Lagoon and Shark Island. Ko Olina officials said the project is expected to open in late 2008.
Legislators assured of aquarium project
Ko Olina officials say the planned attraction is slated to open 2008
As the Legislature considers yanking $75 million in tax credits granted three years ago to build a "world class" aquarium at Ko Olina, the project's developers scrambled this week to update lawmakers on their plans and reaffirm their commitment to getting it done.
Although no contract has been signed with attraction developer U.S. Aquarium Team Inc., Ko Olina officials said they have commitments from the company and that the project is expected to open in late 2008. The price tag was estimated at between $60 million and $80 million.
"Yes, they are in full bore putting together design elements," Mike Nelson, vice president of Ko Olina Resort & Marina, told lawmakers at an informational briefing yesterday. "We're all on the same page."
The proposal to repeal the tax credits, House Bill 2799, is scheduled for a preliminary vote before the House Tourism and Culture Committee on Tuesday. However, Committee Chairman Jerry Chang (D, Piihonua-Kaumana) acknowledged that it is unlikely to pass.
"It's hard for us to repeal it right now because of the commitment we already made and the financial commitment that they already made," Chang said.
The Legislature passed the measure in 2003 granting $75 million in tax credits over 10 years for the development of the aquarium project. Gov. Linda Lingle signed the bill, which had been vetoed the previous year by then-Gov. Ben Cayetano.
Yesterday's briefing came after lawmakers were unhappy with a presentation by Ko Olina officials on Tuesday, when the bill was heard before the committee.
Ko Olina developers said the mere introduction of the bill had hurt the project, with some investors getting nervous over the possibility of having the funding mechanism pulled.
"I think we've answered the questions," said Todd Apo, vice president of the Ko Olina Community Association. Apo also is a member of the Honolulu City Council and chairman of the transportation committee.
"I hope this repeal bill can disappear as soon as possible and keep everyone involved in the project on track," he added.
The proposal was introduced by House Vice Speaker K. Mark Takai (D, Newtown-Pearl City), who opposed the tax credits three years ago. Takai said he continues to believe that tax credits should be industrywide and not specific to a single company.
"There was some concern out there in the community that actually the Ko Olina project was off track and they weren't going to utilize the tax credits," Takai said. "The other thing was we just needed to see how they were doing, because the thing was off and on for the past couple years.
"We've just got to keep the aquarium developers focused on what the commitments they made to the state were, and we've got to make sure that they just continue along the path that they promised."
Apo and Nelson noted that the project had changed in scope since 2003, mostly because they needed to find a different site on the grounds of the 642-acre resort and marina to comply with zoning rules. Both said they expect final designs to be completed and presented to the community by the end of this year.