Sia Williams worked on her leis yesterday at the International Market Place, where she has run a flower cart for the past year.

Waikiki marketplace
renewal put on hold

Financial issues force the
bazaar's landlord to shelve
the $150 million project

The $150 million transformation of the International Market Place, a major visitor attraction at the epicenter of Waikiki, has been put on hold.


Queen Emma Foundation, the property's landowner, had planned to raze the circa-1950s bazaar this summer to make way for a more upscale retail and entertainment center, but financial constraints have forced the foundation to re-evaluate its redevelopment plan, said Wayne Nakashima, property manager of the International Market Place.

"There has been a delay on the redevelopment project because the foundation has to fund the larger Queen's Health Systems," Nakashima said. "As usual, money is always a problem."

The land that the market sits on was once owned by Queen Emma Kaleleonalai, wife of King Kamehameha IV, who left the money to what was then Queen's Hospital when she died in 1878.

Queen Emma Foundation trustees are in discussions about the project and are considering options, which range from scrapping the redevelopment and performing only repairs, to renovating portions of the center, Nakashima said. There is also a chance that full-on redevelopment will still take place, he said.

"We should have a better idea in the next few months," Nakashima said.

The Queen Emma Foundation released ambitious redevelopment plans for the cluttered outdoor market in 2003, a few years after acquiring the center from leaseholder WDC Venture, which had filed for bankruptcy. Up to that point the Queen Emma Foundation had been in a passive, rent-collecting role while WDC Venture ran the market.

Renewal plans for the 4.5-acre parcel included new open-air shops and restaurants, a center for storytellers, another for ceremonies and entertainment, and a mix of carts and kiosks.

Although there has been consistent maintenance at the market since it opened in 1957, there have been no major renovations, Nakashima said. The last building went up in 1970, and several of the buildings have termite damage and other maintenance problems, he said.

Because the International Market Place has changed little in its five decades, the Queen Emma Foundation's renewal plans have sparked debate. A rejuvenated center would have created a new gathering place in Waikiki and increased the value of surrounding properties. But it also would have closed many small businesses that found their niche among the volcano-shaped candles, plastic hula skirts and inexpensive aloha wear.

Market tenants, who have had month-to-month leases since the late 1990s when redevelopment plans began to surface, are now in limbo. The temporary reprieve has given some owners hope, while it has disappointed others who were banking on redevelopment to help boost their revenues.

Sia Williams, who operates a flower stand near the entrance to the market, said she would like to see redevelopment take place. Williams has been coming to the market since she was a young girl in the 1960s, and thinks it is time for a change.

"The bathrooms are in bad condition, and the storage upstairs needs to be updated," Williams said. "I'll be sad to see it change, but I think business would be better if they renovated."

If the center closes to rebuild, Williams said she can easily move her flower cart to another location. Other International Market Place vendors, who have more invested in their businesses, might find the prospect of relocation more difficult.

Luwina Soo, who owns Lovely Wear, has sold apparel at the market since 2000, and said redevelopment likely would put her out of business.

"I don't have a plan if it closes," Soo said. The rise in Waikiki rent has made it difficult to find another location that would fit her budget.

"I need to make money to support my family, but I can't do that if the rent rises," she said.

A full-on redevelopment of the International Market Place also could make it difficult for the Queen Emma Foundation to support its health care mandate, said retail analyst Stephany Sofos.

Annual debt service on a $150 million redevelopment easily could cost the center up to $8 million a year, which would likely be close to what the market gets from revenue after the renovation, Sofos said.

"You can't be a fee owner that's desperate for cash and roll the dice with the hopes that you will double your money," Sofos said. The nonprofit foundation has a fiduciary responsibility to maximize its profits, she noted.

Roz Thomson, an Australian tourist bargaining for wares at the center yesterday, said the appeal of the market is one of the reasons she has been a repeat visitor to Waikiki for 15 years. She said the Ala Moana and Royal Hawaiian shopping centers offer more than enough upscale retail choices to Waikiki visitors.

"I'd rather come here. It's so much fun," she said.

International Market Place

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