Aloha Tower residential project gets OK
The state approval marks the next stepped for an overall $300 million development on the waterfront
A proposed $300 million development by Texas-based Hughes Development LP at the Aloha Tower waterfront took another step forward yesterday.
The state Aloha Tower Development Corp. board approved plans for a residential-retail project at Piers 5 and 6, which would be the first phase of development. On the drawing board is a 130-foot tower offering more than 250 residential units, some of which could be fractional ownerships, on top of a four-level parking garage.
Kenneth Hughes, president of Hughes Development, also envisions a promenade surrounding about 85,000 square feet of retail space offering shops and restaurants with outdoor dining along the waterfront.
The state first entered a development agreement with Hughes in October 2004 for an ambitious overall project that would offer condos, hotel rooms, a new cruise ship terminal, parks and retail developments linked to downtown Honolulu by streetcars.
Phase II of the project proposes a boutique hotel at Piers 10 and 11, but has yet to be approved.
Eventually, the master plan for the development would require moving the Hawaiian Electric Co. power plant to another location.
Aloha Tower board members lauded the persistence of Hughes, and voted unanimously to move forward.
"It's the kind of thing we need to increase the vibrancy between downtown and the waterfront," said the state agency's chief executive, Sandra Pfund. "Having more people down there will add vibrancy to the area, and create synergy for the marketplace."
Pfund said a long-term ground lease and more specific details of the development agreement for Piers 5 and 6 would be ironed out within the next six months.
Hughes declined to disclose how much his firm has invested into the project thus far, but said he was pleased with the board's approval.
"We have a very substantial investment," he said. "But the biggest investment is our personal time. This is the 23rd trip to Hawaii on this project, and we haven't started it yet."
Originally, Hughes had proposed developing fee simple loft-style condominiums at the waterfront. Those plans were scrapped because the state could not sell waterfront property to a developer.
Citing the scrapped plans for development on the Kakaako waterfront as an example, the Aloha Tower board yesterday also approved the establishment of a public advisory group. The body would be a liaison to the community and provide a critique for the Aloha Tower board.
An architect planner, Andrew Charles Yanoviak, as well as John Michael White, president of Hawaiian Land Co., lauded the development plans and said it should move forward.
Carol Hopkins of Scenic Hawaii, a nonprofit group interested in preserving neighboring Irwin Park, also approved of the plans.
"The plans look great," said Hopkins. "Let's get on with it."
But the Aloha Tower waterfront plans are also expected to encounter opposition and some controversy.
Michele Matsuo, a condominium owner at Harbor Square for 15 years, said she wasn't informed about the project yet, which would potentially block her view. Nor have the occupants of many other buildings in downtown Honolulu, she said.
"What ATDC did today was premature after being advised that many buildings have not been briefed about the project yet," she said. "I'm shocked ... and I don't think the public community is fully aware."
Hughes, however, said his firm has met with 22 community groups for input and talk-story sessions.
"We've put so much energy into this," he said. "Hopefully we've listened well."
Sen. Gordon Trimble (R-Waikiki-Downtown) says he opposes any residential development at Aloha Tower.
"The harbor should be the first priority," he said. "You can put residential and shopping anywhere."
Hughes says he hasn't given up on his overall vision for the Aloha Tower waterfront, originally dubbed the "Pacific Quay." And he still has confidence that he can convince HECO to eventually relocate its power plant.
Hughes said he has worked on mainland projects before that have taken just as long to develop, with just as many hurdles. The Aloha Tower waterfront has the potential of similar developments in San Diego or Sydney, Australia, he said.
"The site is a gorgeous site," said Hughes. "We now have an opportunity to bring that site alive."