The convention center's glass and steel eaves on the
Kapiolani/Kalakaua side across from Century Center.
By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin

On time and
on the money

Here's a look at the center,
just 10 weeks from completion

By Russ Lynch

Cranes hoisting full-grown 40-foot palm trees into place are the most visible clue that the Hawaii Convention Center -- more than a decade in the making if you count years of dispute about where it should be -- is nearly finished.

In just about 10 weeks, the design-build contracting team Nordic/PCL Joint Venture plans to hand the keys to the $350 million convention center over to state officials, having finished the project within budget and before the Nov. 7 completion deadline.

The date for the handover ceremony isn't firm yet but probably will be in mid-October, center officials say.

Meanwhile, the center's management is going about the business of selling conventions.

Although they have come under some criticism for not attracting enough conventions, those responsible for booking events contend their 25 confirmed bookings is a respectable success rate. They say they're doing well considering that ground was broken for the center just two years ago and that major conventions often are booked five to 10 years out.

By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
Seen from the Kapiolani Boulevard side, with Waikiki
and Diamond Head in the background, the convention
center takes up 9.7 acres of land.

Sandra Butler Moreno of the Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau last week led a sales team at the Chicago convention of the American Society of Association Executives, the people who book conventions. She said they received a "very positive" response.

Officially, the HVCB and the convention center management can only count meetings that are booked and confirmed, but both say there are many others close to confirmation or showing strong interest.

"We have a lot in the pot too that have not confirmed and are in the process of getting contracted," said Moreno, the HVCB's vice president of meetings, conventions and incentives, whose team at the HVCB is responsible for long-term bookings.

Randall M. Tanaka, director of sales at the Hawaii Convention Center, is responsible for near-term bookings, signing up meetings up to a maximum of 18 months before they are due to take place.

"I've taken some 300 planners through the building. Not one negative comment. We've got a lot of short-term activity," said Tanaka, who works for Spectacor Management Group, the Philadelphia-based firm that manages the center and a few dozen other convention facilities across the country.

By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
From the Ala Wai side, looking mauka, the convention
center presents a massive facade.

The criticism of the center hasn't stopped with the number of bookings. Critics have also complained about the center's cost and the impact on traffic on the already busy intersections of Kapiolani, Atkinson and Kalakaua.

Never intended to be run at a profit

Once the center is open, the cost of operating it is expected to run at a loss of about $5 million a year, at least for the first few years.

But state Convention Center Authority executives and others close to the development point out that the center, like most of its kind, was never intended to run at a profit.

Instead, its purpose is to generate tax revenues from convention attendees who stay in hotels, dine at restaurants and take tours. When it's in full swing, those tax revenues should more than make up for the operating deficit, they say.

Alan Hayashi, executive director of the Convention Center Authority, noted that spending by conventioneers outside the center is expected to generate tax income of $180 million to $200 million a year. Thus it makes sense for the state to subsidize the operations, he said.

Furthermore, he and other executives say, Hawaii taxpayers aren't paying for it, at least so far.

For now the project is subsidized from a fund fed by one-sixth of the 6 percent transient accommodations tax, commonly called the hotel-room tax.

How the subsidy will be financed after that fund runs out is a matter for the Legislature to decide, Hayashi said.

By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
A view of the center's glass panels fronting
Kapiolani Boulevard.

The design/construction bill of just more than $200 million and the cost of the land is covered by about $350 million in revenue bonds issued by the state. Debt service on those bonds is also coming out of the room-tax fund.

Earl Anzai, state budget director, said current projections are for the fund to fall short of expenses by $8 million for fiscal 1998-99 and $19 million in fiscal year 2000.

A proposal to reorganize the room tax to take care of the shortfall, largely by trimming the counties' share of the tax, didn't make it through the last legislative session. Anzai said state officials are discussing ways of covering the bills.

The center's construction cost is now running at $201.2 million even though the original contract to design and build it was $200 million, said Armand Cote, the Convention Center Authority engineer who watches over the construction.

After the contract was awarded, the authority gave the design-build team new orders to strengthen roof supports so an additional 100,000 square feet of exhibit ballroom space could be added on top in the future if required.

The estimate for the roof-support job was $3 million, so the actual contract was for $203 million, according to Steve Bradshaw, the authority's contracting officer. The bottom line is that the project is coming to completion under the cost that was authorized, he said.

Untangling traffic situation

As for the concerns over traffic, convention center supporters contend that changes have been made to ease congestion once the center is open.

By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
Dwayne Perry, a drywall taper, shows the inside
of the convention center ballroom.

A lane was added on Atkinson Drive and traffic will be routed mauka on Atkinson and enter the center, for all but the biggest conventions, by turning right on Kahapai Street.

Traffic management consultants Wilbur Smith & Associates, a Honolulu engineering and planning firm, this month completed a new traffic management plan.

The Smith study is essentially a working manual, spelling out just how to direct vehicles and pedestrians in various situations -- whether the event is big or small, whether it is at night or in the daytime, whether arrivals and departures will be all at once or spread throughout the day.

Terry Brothers, an associate at Wilbur Smith, said convention operators will have to pay for manning and other aspects of traffic handling so his report is intended to show them just what they will have to do.

Wanted: New general manager

Meanwhile, as the palm trees are being placed inside and outside the center in preparation for the October completion, the facility's management have one unanticipated hurdle to clear.

The Convention Center Authority board is scheduled to meet today to discuss the search for a new general manager.

Last month, a year after taking the job, general manager Lynn Thompson quit, citing a compensation dispute with management firm Spectacor.

The authority said it will discuss a possible replacement in the closed-door meeting today and officials refused to comment further on the search. But Spectacor and authority officials have said Thompson's departure would not hurt the operations of the center.

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Community]
[Info] [Letter to Editor] [Stylebook] [Feedback]

© 1997 Honolulu Star-Bulletin