Supporters rallied to save
Japanese cultural center

More than $6 million
was raised to pay off a
restructured bank loan

By Russ Lynch

Even people close to the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii didn't know the center was in dire financial straits until the center's board announced in mid-October it was going to sell the center to payoff $9 million in pressing debt.

"There was not enough communication," said Glenn Masunaga, a dentist and chairman of the Makiki Japanese Language School.

Once the word came out, supporters got into gear. Masunaga's school was the first to make a significant pledge, offering $500,000 as soon as the fund-raising campaign got going in mid-November.

"We're very happy. I'm very, very happy," Masunaga said yesterday, after a last-minute announcement by the center that it had reached a deal with its lending banks just before yesterday's deadline to pay up or face foreclosure.

More than 7,000 other donors followed Masunaga's example and by yesterday the Committee to Save the Center had raised more than $6 million. That was enough for the four banks -- Central Pacific Bank, Bank of Hawaii, First Hawaiian Bank and City Bank -- to accept payment of the $6 million in principal owed to them and forgive $1.5 million in outstanding interest on the debt.

The center in Moiliili was saved.

The Pacific Telecommunications Council is delighted it will still have the same landlord, the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii.

The council, which attracts hundreds of high-technology business representatives to its annual conferences in Hawaii each January, has about 10 years to go on its office lease in the center and did not expect to be evicted even if ownership changed.

But the council, a tenant since 1994, wants to be in the cultural center, rather than some other landlord, said Hoyt Zia, the council's executive director.

"We originally moved here because we felt it would be good for an international organization like ours, which has a significant and very active Japanese membership, to be part of the Japanese Cultural Center," Zia said.

Zia also said he feels good about the community of Americans of Japanese ancestry because of the rapid way they raised the money.

"The fact that they came up with $6 million in less than two months shows that there is a depth of feeling there that is something to be honored and treasured," Zia said.

One of the active fund-raisers, Albert Miyasato, said a lesson was learned in the "save the center" process -- that all of the nearly 2,000 members of the Japanese

Cultural Center nonprofit organization need to be encouraged into its activities all the time, not just when there are problems. New ways of attracting people to use the center must be developed, Miyasato said.

"We cannot continue to do what we have been doing," he said, since the thousands of donors showed they think it is an important thing to keep alive, it should not be taken for granted.

Susan Kodani, the center's president, said the organization is grateful to the fund-raising committee, chaired by attorney and businessman Colbert Matsumoto, for finding the money to take care of the debt.

"It's been a long and difficult task to try to take care of this long-standing debt and we're grateful to the banks for their cooperation," Kodani said.

Wayne Miyao, who had the difficult task of wearing two hats as a senior vice president of one of the main lenders, City Bank, and at the same time as an active volunteer in the center's fund-raising activities, said that yesterday was the last day in which a deal could have been made before foreclosure would force a sale of the building.

Matsumoto said that the banks' acceptance of a loan restructuring came less than five minutes before a scheduled 11 a.m. news conference yesterday.

Fund-raising will continue, in order to raise another $1.5 million to pay off non-bank creditors who are owed part of the center's $9 million total debt, Matsumoto said.

The center, on fee-simple land acquired from Kamehameha Schools at 2454 S. Beretania St., houses a collection of historic artifacts from Japanese immigrants, a tea ceremony room, a martial arts dojo, a 10,000-square-foot banquet hall and commercial office space.

In early October, the center's management announced that the board of directors was preparing to sell the building for $11 million to pay the debts and keep its activities going.

Proponents of saving the building urged members to object and by mid-November a "Save the Center" committee was in place, dedicated to raising enough money in 47 days to pay off the debt.

Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii

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