Official dithering leaves downtown structure in limbo
Nearly $11.5 million in downtown real estate has devolved into a white elephant as state leaders have been unable to decide its fate.
In the meantime, the price for fixing up the Kamamalu Building has more than doubled as construction costs have inflated in the four years the structure has remained vacant and, if an overhaul is ever done, at least three more years will pass before it could be ready for occupants.
After spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on studies, the Legislature and the Lingle administration should commit funds to its renovation or put the 1957 building on the market -- whatever course of action is in the best interest of taxpayers. What cannot happen is to allow the nine-story structure to become more of a blight on Honolulu's primary civic and business district.
The Star-Bulletin's Richard Borreca reports that after state employees left the building at the corner of Richards and South King streets for other quarters in 2003, officials discovered the extent of deterioration was greater than previously thought. Though the Legislature had appropriated $12.6 million for renovations, $27 million or more would be needed. Moreover, revenue collections at the time were not as robust as in more recent years and the structure was left as is.
Late last year, after complaints about homeless people congregating in doorways and other parts of Kamamalu, the state boarded up the King Street entrance. Traffic barriers and orange cones add to the shabby appearance of the area that sits in the shadow of the Iolani Palace and just down the street from the Hawaii State Art Museum.
The building, valued at $8.5 million, isn't on the register of historic places, although a stairwell contains ceramic tile mosaics by well-known Hawaii artists. The location -- the land is appraised at $2.9 million -- could be attractive to investors or businesses seeking increasingly tight downtown properties and the state has received inquiries from a nearby bank. But because it is in the Capitol District, height restrictions grandfathered in would be lost if the building is razed. In addition, updated zoning codes would require wider setbacks for sidewalks.
All of these factors contribute to the difficulties of figuring out what to do with the building for which the state paid a mere $2.5 million in 1968. Still, leaving an asset to sit idle makes no sense.
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