Sunday, April 15, 2001

Neon lights shine over a mall on Keeaumoku Street last night,
with with a host of adult clubs. In the background stand
condominiums. Many residents complain about problems
associated with the businesses nearby.

Mayor’s gateway
plan draws
mixed reviews

Critics say the plan would shut
down legitimate businesses

By B.J. Reyes

Like many people who live within shouting distance of the nightspots around the Hawaii Convention Center, Carey Lane doesn't need an alarm clock to tell him when it's 4 a.m.

"There's a lot of noise going on at about 4 o'clock in the morning," he said. "That's when all the drunks seem to hit the streets at once."

Lane, 52, lives in the Princess Leilani condominium complex on Kanunu Street, mere blocks from the crowded, noisy, neon-littered entertainment district along Kapiolani Boulevard and Keeaumoku Street near the convention center.

Map Count him among those in favor of Mayor Jeremy Harris' plan to create a special design district in the neighborhood devoid of strip clubs, hostess bars and other adult businesses.

"There's a lot of that type of establishment here. I think it's a bit much for the tourist center," Lane said. "I think it's just been concentrated too much.

"It's been put into this neighborhood so I'd like to see it moved out to some of the outlying areas."

For some residents, noise is just one of the drawbacks to having businesses such as Club Rock-Za, Club Femme Nu and the Wild Horse Showroom as your neighbors.

Adult-oriented businesses are only part of the problem, said John Breinich, chairman of the Ala Moana/Kakaako Neighborhood Board. He says the average bar or karaoke club also contributes to other problems facing his neighborhood.

"The bars produce noise, traffic problems, crime, prostitution, gambling," said Breinich, "and our district has more of these places than any other place on the island."

He called the mayor's plan for ridding the district of adult-oriented businesses a good first-step toward making the neighborhood more congenial.

The city Planning Commission voted on April 5 to send the City Council its recommendation in favor of a bill that would create a one-acre project at Kapiolani, Kalakaua Avenue and Kalauokalani Way. The gateway plaza, an open-air promenade with a vista toward Waikiki, would be the centerpiece of the mayor's plan to shed the district of so-called undesirable businesses within three years.

The project, expected to result in the condemnation of six sites, including one plot that is home to Club Rock-Za strip club, still requires City Council approval.

Elza Yamashiro, 28, and father of a 2-year-old, said a change might be for the better.

"If they're able to make changes, maybe the buildings that are closed down can be bought by a company, a computer company or another store for clothing or something like that, that can use the space and be able help the economy," said Yamashiro, who lives in Kapiolani Manor near the convention center.

Another Kapiolani Manor resident, Mildred Tatsuno, said: "I think it's a very good plan."

Tatsuno, who has lived in the condominiums for 30 years, also said: "Anything for the better I think is nice."

As proposed, the mayor's special design district would extend beyond the gateway plaza from McCully Street as far west as Piikoi Street and from Young Street down to Kona Street and a stretch of Ala Moana Boulevard.

Harris has said he plans to get rid of undesirable establishments by removing them as allowable uses within the district. Clubs would be forced to shut down or relocate outside the proposed special district.

Although a handful of adult businesses in the proposed design district declined a request to be interviewed, one manager criticized the Planning Commission for not taking the clubs and bars into account before the convention center was built.

"It's all well and good that he wants to make a nice area surrounding the convention center, but that should've been considered at the time they built it," said Donal Bultman, general manager of Aaxtion Video on Kapiolani.

"All the businesses he wants to close or relocate are legitimate businesses bringing in revenue to the city of Honolulu and supporting the tax base," Bultman said. "We all pay taxes, we all support people. He's just putting more people out of work."

According to city Liquor Commission, there are 33 businesses in the proposed special design district with licenses that allow nudity and/or hostess bars.

Many residents say that with so many clubs in the area, problems are bound to spill over into the neighborhood.

Breinich cited police reports that show some clubs average at least a dozen police calls a month for disturbances such as sex offenses, aggravated assault, noise and theft. He points out that these reports do not represent numbers of people charged or crimes prosecuted, however, "they are a measure of activity that stimulates someone to call the police."

A fellow neighborhood board member agreed.

"What goes on in these places, the prostitution, the fights, these things just carry on, they spill into the neighborhood," said Larry Hurst, manager of The Elms condominiums on Elm Street. "All of these things are happening right in the same zone. They're happening right outside the bars.

"I'm not saying eliminate these places, but good God, spread them out. You don't need three places on one property."

Although he did not have statistics, Honolulu police Capt. Mark Nakagawa affirmed that the convention center district, "has it's share of crime."

But getting rid of the bars and strip clubs from the area won't necessarily make his job easier.

"Businesses likely will be displaced to another area, likely within our district," said Nakagawa, whose district includes most of downtown. "It's really hard to predict what the impact will be."

One area of concern for supporters of the special design district is what to do with businesses deemed acceptable, such as Da Hui surf shop, which opened earlier this year after installing $100,000 in improvements. The mayor's plan does include $250,000 for relocation assistance.

"We want to make sure that legitimate activities not related to some of these bars and clubs have adequate support," Breinich said. "The intent certainly is not to affect those kinds of businesses. We want to make sure they are adequately addressed with support by the city."

But business owners like Bultman see all the enterprises in the area as legitimate.

"My concern is that he's taking out legitimate businesses," Bultman said. "I would have the same concern if I was an adult business or if I was Payless Shoe Source."

And while some residents may consider adult clubs to be eyesores, resident John Arakaki has a more pragmatic take on the situation. He sees the rise of such businesses a simple result of the economic law of supply and demand.

"They wouldn't be here if they didn't have customers," said Arakaki, 44, who lives in the Woodrose Condominiums on Amana Street near Keeaumoku. "Being from this area, I see they're crowded all the time and especially in the convention center district.

"I don't think it reflects poorly on Honolulu, but it's what sometimes conventioneers come here and see."

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