Honolulu Star-Bulletin Local News
A bitter pill
for historic sugar mill

The old Aiea mill won’t be developed
as a heritage center, after all

By Jim Witty
Star-Bulletin

It was a romantic idea, noble even: Progressive corporation renovates historic sugar mill, converts it into a headquarters, factory and showplace and helps preserve a piece of Hawaii heritage.

Sometime during the past year, romance fell victim to economic reality.

The Aiea sugar mill is up for sale, the site destined to house a neighborhood shopping center or industrial subdivision.

Current owner Crazy Shirts Hawaii put the 19-acre mill site on the block last year when the project became "economically unfeasible," said A. Joel Criz, whose company is one of three commissioned to sell the property.

Criz said the mill building could be demolished as early as May; the company has filed its 90-day notice of intent to demolish the sugar mill with the Department of Land and Natural Resources. The state has indicated it has no money to buy the site.

"We've finished the feasibility studies and now we're going to the marketplace" to see who is interested, Criz said.

He said the property will be more desirable to prospective developers once the cavernous mill building is gone and they can get a feel for the acreage.

Leading options are a 120,000-square-foot shopping center on 10 of the 15 usable acres, or light industrial lots. Other possibilities include a church, school or elderly care facility, he said. A large, mainland-based home improvement retailer also has expressed interest in the location.

A new road will connect the Aiea Heights Drive entrance of the property with the intersection of Ulune and Kulawea streets.

"But nobody has stepped up to the plate to buy the property yet. ... Crazy Shirts is willing to bend over backward to find a use that the community would like," Criz said.

He said that short of preserving the old mill and the ancillary buildings, members of the community tend to favor a shopping center. But what most really wanted was preservation of the mill, which is on the National Historic Registry.

"We would certainly like to have seen the sugar mill preserved," said Aiea Neighborhood Board Chairman Mike Miura, adding that there is still a flicker of hope.

He's not optimistic, but it has happened before.

In 1994, Crazy Shirts Hawaii founder Rick Ralston reached agreement with former mill owner A&B Properties two weeks before the mill was to be razed to make way for an industrial subdivision.

The mill began as the Honolulu Plantation Co. mill in 1898 and in 1947, when C&H bought it, became a refinery only.

Crazy Shirts was to have moved from its Halawa headquarters into the refurbished mill this year.

Miura said the neighborhood board is working with Councilman Mufi Hannemann to schedule a community meeting in March to talk about the plans.

Of the 19 acres, three are occupied by the Hawaii Agricultural Research Center Laboratory.




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