OHA reaches agreement on new cultural center
The Office of Hawaiian Affairs enters talks with the agency that oversees development in Kakaako
The Office of Hawaiian Affairs has taken another step forward in its proposal to build headquarters and a cultural center on 5.2 acres on the Kakaako waterfront.
Members of the state Hawaii Community Development Authority agreed yesterday to enter a six-month exclusive negotiation period with OHA to lease the site for the complex.
"We're very excited," said OHA administrator Clyde Namuo. "A six-month exclusive with HCDA is good news."
Namuo said the agreement would allow OHA to start an environmental impact study for the project, which is expected to include a 30,000-square-foot headquarters building and a 30,000-square-foot cultural center.
Preliminary plans unveiled a year ago included a three-level office complex, along with an outdoor performance area, food court, 180-stall parking lot, canoe hale, imu, taro patches and facilities for hula and the Hawaiian martial art of lua.
Last year, the project's projected price was $32 million, though construction costs have likely gone up since then, he said.
OHA hopes it would be able to put the project out to bid within two years, with at least 18 months needed for construction.
Namuo said before the HCDA board yesterday that he envisioned a cultural center that flowed into Kakaako Waterfront Park, with a portion of the canal covered up.
Eventually, OHA might go back to HCDA to seek a variance for the height restrictions, which are now at 45 feet high, because the center might be built on a mound.
Namuo emphasized that the center would be open and accessible to the public, though design plans are still preliminary. The cultural center would house exhibits open to the public.
"We would see the role of the cultural center as bringing the culture to all the people of Hawaii," he said. "This building is not just devoted to Hawaiians. This is a building for the entire community."
The project could be funded either by selling bonds, or drawing from OHA's $400 million portfolio, though the former option would be more likely, he said.
OHA might also seek funding through the state Legislature. But Namuo said OHA won't wait for legislative action to move forward with the project.
OHA currently leases office space at 711 Kapiolani Blvd., and has been searching for permanent headquarters for several years.
The property, referred to by HCDA as "Lot 1," sits on ceded lands next to the ocean, makai of the University of Hawaii's proposed cancer research center.
Because the site is on ceded lands, OHA may request a rent-free lease, while still paying common area maintenance fees. But the details of the lease terms would still need to be worked out and approved by the HCDA.
Daniel Dinell, executive director of HCDA, estimated the agency pays about $100,000 a year in collective ceded land payments in Kakaako.
Rosette Steel Hawaii LLC occupies half of the 70,000-square-foot warehouse that now sits on the site, with a a lease that expires in January. The other warehouse area is occupied by Next Step, a new homeless shelter on a month-to-month lease until March.
"OHA, with the waterfront, provided a nice bookend," said HCDA's executive director Daniel Dinell. "It's good to have a use that's compatible with the public use of the park. Now OHA is taking the lead in providing that cultural amenity."