Texas-based UC Urban is the sole negotiator to develop six acres of land between Aloha Tower Marketplace and the Coast Guard station on Ala Moana. The land is on the far side of the Maritime Center.

A new look for
the waterfront

A Texas developer is the favorite
to renovate state land near Aloha Tower

By Russ Lynch

Ken Hughes, the Texas real estate developer chosen yesterday as the favorite to develop a residential-commercial complex on Honolulu Piers 5 and 6, has a broad vision for the site.


He sees a hotel-residential-office complex based around a new transit hub, connecting eventually with Honolulu Airport at one end and Waikiki at the other.

Hughes, whose Dallas-based UC Urban was selected yesterday as the only developer the Aloha Tower Development Corp. will talk to in coming months about the waterfront project, was not at yesterday's corporation meeting, and his proposals were described as vague.

But the ATDC's financial consultant, Bill Whitney, recommended the Hughes project in part because it fits the agency's long-term vision for a regeneration of downtown based on waterfront activity, and because Hughes has a proven development history as well as a promise of solid financial backing.

The Hughes proposal calls for an "urban waterfront" style like those in San Francisco, Boston and Baltimore, ATDC staffers said.

Hughes proposed a complex of two high-rises surrounded by low-rise buildings, containing urban "loft-style" condominiums. There would be a 250-room boutique hotel, 200,000 square feet of office space and some form of transit terminal, possibly including a ferry base.

Whitney went to Dallas twice in recent weeks to look at Hughes projects, including the well-regarded Mockingbird Station, a residential-hotel-retail complex built over and around a light rail terminal.

Hughes' proposal for Piers 5 and 6 is "still very sketchy" and his ideas about transit connections need a lot of work, Whitney said.

But he said Hughes was the only one of the proposals to recognize the importance of transit access to the waterfront. Hughes envisions a transportation terminal with some form of transit running along the waterfront and something to connect it with downtown Honolulu, perhaps a kind of loop road.

That concept has been discussed for decades, particularly after the Aloha Tower Marketplace found that not nearly as many people as it liked would cross Ala Moana for lunch.

The reason the Hughes plans are vague right now, Whitney said, is that there are many infrastructure problems to be sorted out.

But interviews with Hughes, people who know him, officials of communities where he has done developments and advisers in the financial community show he is the right person for the job, Whitney said.

A second plan, the only other to be sent in response to an ATDC request for proposals, was dismissed before it could even get to board for discussion.

Whitney said the proposal from Virginia-based Sunland Group, headed by a former Hawaii resident Bernard Furey, did not meek ATDC standards.

The Sunland proposal "was lacking in so many respects that we did not think that it should even be considered as a proposal," Whitney said.

The Hughes proposal contains one requirement that ATDC staff said could kill it -- a demand that the state agency pay all research costs to explore infrastructure needs.

But the ATDC staff believes it is one of a number of items that can be negotiated with Hughes.

The ATDC board yesterday authorized the staff to negotiate exclusively with Hughes. The staff will report back every 30 days and further board action will be needed before a contract can be signed.

The staff said Hughes does not like the requirement that the developer provide 500 or more parking spaces to help the parking-starved Aloha Tower Marketplace.

The design chief for the project would be Honolulu-born architect Darryl Yamamoto. Yamamoto, who works in the Los Angeles office of RTKL Associates Inc., the architectural firm that designed Mockingbird Station, said in an interview he comes back to the islands often, has family here and believes in Hughes' vision.

An architecture graduate of the University of Hawaii, Yamamoto left for Los Angeles nearly six years ago, figuring there wasn't enough challenge in the islands. There wasn't a lot of building going on other than small office buildings and a few hotels, Yamamoto said. Some big jobs had gone to out-of-state architects.

Now his vision is broader. "Being born and raised there, the canvas that in a sense you are allowed to see is fairly small," Yamamoto said.

The ATDC is a state agency with a board made up of directors of three state government departments, a representative of the city government and three members representing the public.

Its task is to optimize the use of waterfront property from the makai side of Ala Moana and Punchbowl, along Nimitz Highway to Pier 23. The latest proposal concerns about six acres jutting into the harbor between the Coast Guard station on Ala Moana and the Hawaii Maritime Center.

E-mail to Business Editor


Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
© 2003 Honolulu Star-Bulletin --