A project by private developer Peter Savio would put a 400-room dormitory at the site of the landmark Varsity Theatre, which was built in the late 1930s.

Dorm vision
for Varsity site

A developer's plan requires
tearing down the theater in favor
of a 400-room dorm

Developer Peter Savio says the idea of building a student dormitory on the Varsity Theatre site in Moiliili came to him after he sent his son off to college.

"As a parent, I want my kid living in a dorm," Savio said, adding that he feels he missed out by not living in a dorm in his college days. "When I went to UH, I drove in and struggled with parking like everybody else. I never thought of a dorm as being that critical until my son went to college."

The $50 million to $60 million project would require tearing down the landmark theater, built in the late 1930s, and the circular office building next door. Savio said the theater marquee would be preserved in the design of the dorm.

Savio hopes to build a 400-room dorm for 800 students, with a commercial complex on the street level. The commercial space could include a movie theater.

A formal proposal has not yet been made to the University of Hawaii Board of Regents. But Savio said the project fits into UH President Evan Dobelle's vision of a college town in the Moiliili area.

Savio said UH can either buy the dorm after it is completed, lease the dorm space, or the dorm can be operated privately if the university will recommend it as an option for students.

If the regents approve the project, Savio said the dorm could be finished in time for the start of the 2006 academic year.

UH spokeswoman Kate Wester said it is premature to comment on the proposal until it is formally presented to the university.

Savio has been talking with community and business leaders in Moiliili to find out community concerns before making a formal presentation to the regents and beginning the design phase of the project.

Savio, whose office is on University Avenue not far from the Varsity Theatre, said the property is attractive because it is fairly large and there is one owner -- Consolidated Theatres.

Consolidated spokeswoman Eileen Mortenson said the Varsity Twin theaters are not profitable.

Mortenson said the theater chain has been talking with Savio for months. She noted that the chain has redeveloped its Cinerama and Kuhio movie house properties, and is redeveloping the old Waikiki Theatres with partners.

"Consolidated is looking for a successful project that will work for the community, the university and them," Mortenson said.

The main concerns expressed in neighborhood board meetings and other forums have been about parking and noise, Savio said.

"I think the project will actually help to alleviate some of the parking concerns," he said.

Besides mainland and neighbor-island students, Savio said there should be a demand from Oahu students for the rooms and that may reduce the number of cars coming to campus.

"Don't be surprised if someone who lives in Manoa lives in the dorm," Savio said. He thinks other parents like himself want their children to gain some independence while going to college and live away from home.

"They'll be growing up, maturing, and appreciate mom and dad and the fact that they did the laundry," he said.


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