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Hawaii’s World

By A.A. Smyser

Tuesday, February 6, 2001

Aquarium anchors
grand proposal for
ocean center

FROM his office high in downtown's First Hawaiian Bank skyscraper, Walter A. Dods can look out to Kakaako and see clearly the big underdeveloped area of urban waterfront land that Governor Cayetano calls Kakaako Makai.

As bank CEO and one of Hawaii's leading community boosters, Dods concurs with the governor that Kakaako Makai offers a redevelopment opportunity that can make Hawaii a better place to live for decades to come.

Thus he has signed on to head a task force to raise $20 million privately to contribute to a $70 million Ocean Science Center of the Pacific located at the Point Panic entry point to Kewalo Basin.

At that locale, it can be an architectural standout much larger than the present Waikiki Aquarium. It can be a major educational/research center as well as one of America's best marine museums.

Big fish like ahi, mahimahi, opah and aku might swim its tanks close by smaller tanks showing the fish and other aquatic animals of the tropics as no other U.S. ocean center can.

It is the governor's hope that the Children's Discovery Center already at Kakaako Makai in what once was a Honolulu incinerator will be joined by both the Ocean Science Center and a $35-40 million Science Learning Center and planetarium first planned for Bishop Museum's Kalihi campus.

Bruce Carlson, director of Waikiki Aquarium, which fully supports the new center, says it could either replace or supplement today's Waikiki Aquarium.

After being closed from 1992 to 1994 for upgrading, the present facility is a small gem, very much worth a visit, but more limited than our mid-Pacific community can (should?) offer. Big fish are beyond its capacity.

Whether the governor and bank leader can arouse more community support for the project than was shown in a recent poll may be crucial to getting the state Legislature to approve the bond issues the governor recommends to provide the state's share.

State studies as early as 1969 under Gov. John A. Burns have favored a major state oceanographic research park in one form or another to dramatize Hawaii's connection to the sea that stretches for thousands of miles around us.

An earlier suggested location was on the Kewalo Basin peninsula opposite Point Panic.

GOVERNOR George Ariyoshi backed the ocean link concept but couldn't sell it to the Legislature. Governor Cayetano picked it up in his first year as governor in 1995 but found our flagging economy working against him.

Now he is in a "try again" mood, the economy is better, and he has lined up the strong-est business support so far.

The idea is to match the famous mainland aquariums at Boston, Baltimore, Chicago and Monterey but use our advantage as the only U.S. center in tropic seas. Thinking also is focused on using the proposed center for education and research to set it apart from wholly commercial ventures.

The Legislature, which has an education focus this session, will be assured the center will be a rich addition to educational opportunities at all grade levels. University of Hawaii ocean research will continue nearby and at the center. By no means should this great area of state-controlled urban land be allowed to be reduced to mediocre uses.

A.A. Smyser is the contributing editor
and former editor of the the Star-Bulletin
His column runs Tuesday and Thursday.

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