UH-West Oahu sees land sale as a way to fund construction


POSTED: Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The University of Hawaii at West Oahu is looking to sell or lease 55 acres of land next to the site of its proposed Kapolei campus to raise money to start building the new campus.

But the sale is complicated by the state of the economy and a new state law that requires a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to sell the property.

UH-West Oahu Chancellor Gene Awakuni is optimistic about the land's value.

“;We think the market is still decent,”; Awakuni said. “;It's not great, but it's decent enough that it will yield a pretty good price.”;

UH-West Oahu put out a formal request for proposals Sunday to potential buyers. The sales package suggests the land could be used for a supermarket or other retail development, or perhaps for a health club, theaters, offices or apartments.

Awakuni declined to say what the land could be worth, to avoid influencing potential bidders.

But in the past the chancellor has said UH-West Oahu hopes to raise about $40 million from the land sale.

The university broke ground in January, and construction crews are already working on water, sewer and other improvements leading to the new Kapolei campus.

But the university must find other funds to start actual construction of buildings.

The deadline to bid on the property is Sept. 10. Awakuni said if all goes well, bids will be reviewed and a recommendation presented to the Board of Regents in November. A proposed sale would be brought to the Legislature in January and, if approved, could close in May.

;  Awakuni said the university will also consider long-term leases but prefers to sell the land.

“;It's probably the best site for regional commercial retail of any in the area,”; Awakuni said, noting its location on the North-South Road (under construction) near Farrington Highway. The site is also within a five-minute walk of the proposed UH-West Oahu transit station and is already zoned for mixed-use development.

But Stephany Sofos, a real estate and retail analyst, said UH-West Oahu's plans are “;ambitious,”; given the current business and credit markets.

Sofos noted that three other shopping centers are planned for Kapolei with about 1 million square feet of retail space.

“;It's just a lot of retail in that area,”; she said. “;A lot of people are waiting, and they want to see what's going to happen in the marketplace.”;

Awakuni said the university is also looking at leasing or selling other lands around the 200-acre campus site.

Last summer the Hunt Cos. pulled out of a $100 million deal to buy state land around the campus for a housing development. That money was supposed to finance the full cost of construction of the new Kapolei campus.

UH must start construction on the new campus by the end of 2011 or Campbell Estate, which donated the land, can take it back, or the state will have to buy the land at market value.

A permanent campus for UH-West Oahu has been a dream for decades. Since its founding, the campus has been housed in wooden portables at Leeward Community College.