Renewal vital to Hawaii’s iconic tourism district
Renovations and new investment are revitalizing Waikiki.
AS business and political leaders pursue new economic drivers for the islands, sustaining the one that currently propels the state is essential. So polishing Waikiki
-- long the signature district and hub of tourism -- fits well into the objective of maintaining an industry that, though volatile, will always be fundamental to Hawaii's financial well-being.
Through a providential mix of private investment, economic growth in the state and the nation and help from city officials, Waikiki is undergoing much-needed redevelopment.
The first nearing completion is the Outrigger Beach Walk project. At a cost of $535 million, the hotel-retail venture is the largest development in Waikiki and likely the most spent on a mere 7.9 acres of Oahu property. In terms of its influence, the project seems to have sparked other enterprises to spruce up as well.
Kamehameha Schools has been renovating its shopping center, opening the blockade-like structure to street and exposing more of its namesake Royal Hawaiian Hotel. Hotels, such as the Sheraton Moana Surfrider and the Princess Kaiulani, are slated for remodeling while other retail properties have caught the fix-up fever in an effort to compete.
Waikiki was the first area developed to accommodate tourists. Over the years, small hotels and beachside bungalows gave way to towering buildings, but with little coordination, a dearth of new investment and lots of zoning hurdles, the tourist mecca began to lose its luster.
It is to the credit of former Mayor Jeremy Harris that Waikiki is seeing renovation today. Though he was criticized at the time, on these pages and elsewhere, for spending scarce taxpayer dollars to remove bulky utility poles and kiosks and ripping up sidewalks to plant trees and install greenery and other landscaping details along Kalakaua and Kuhio avenues, he set the stage for Waikiki's renewal.
Harris, along with the City Council, also put the muscle of government behind Outrigger's undertaking. Recognizing that it was in the city's interest to rejuvenate Waikiki, they raised the prospect of condemning private property held by owners reluctant to sell the land that Outrigger wanted for its project.
Outrigger's intent has been to create a place in Waikiki where people can gather, but Waikiki has largely been perceived by locals as an area for tourists. Lack of parking, expensive restaurants and retail stores, and a disposition to favor visitors put off locals. Still, island residents should take a second look at Waikiki for what it has to offer.