Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

c.2013 New York Times News Service

The flat, low-slung neighborhood of Kakaako near downtown Honolulu was once an alluvial plain dotted with fish ponds that deteriorated into a gritty area with auto repair shops and warehouses.

During an era of urban revitalization in the 1970s, the state formed the Hawaii Community Development Authority to oversee neighborhood redevelopment in Kakaako, which lies between downtown Honolulu and Waikiki. Since then, Kakaako has evolved into a retail and entertainment district, with shopping centers and Honolulu’s largest multiplex cinema, as well as a neighborhood popular with residential real estate investors.

Kakaako’s largest landowner, the Howard Hughes Corp., based in Texas, is poised to begin building three 400-foot residential condominium towers, the first phase of a development on 60 acres once owned by the family of Victoria Ward, a descendant of Hawaiian royalty.

Although an approved master plan for the development, called Ward Village, includes as many as 22 towers and more than 1 million square feet of retail and commercial space, to be built probably in the next 10 to 15 years, many of the projects in that plan would have to undergo later levels of review.

Howard Hughes, which inherited the acreage and master plan when it emerged out of the bankrupt General Growth Properties in 2009, has already been modifying some of the plans to take into account community concerns. While the proposed overall building density did not change, the developers narrowed the towers to preserve more of the ocean views enjoyed by inland residents.


In recent years, some residents have complained that Kakaako’s 400-foot height limit for buildings is too high. While Howard Hughes continues to propose towers that are maximum height, developers are shifting the orientation of many to make them “mauka-makai” (Hawaiian for “toward the mountains-toward the sea”) to preserve some vistas for islanders living outside the new buildings.

Developers have agreed to survey the properties for native burial grounds, with guidance from the Oahu Island Burial Council.


While Duane Komine, the second vice chairman of the Ala Moana/Kakaako Neighborhood Board No. 11, said the developers had solicited input and provided regular updates to affected residents, some islanders have lingering concerns. Larry Hurst, a resident of the area for more than 20 years, said some continued to complain that ocean views will be blocked, even though the development has already been approved.

“Unfavorable public interest has always been minimal and doesn’t seem to be roused until a development is planned for next door,” Hurst said. “That’s when people come out from behind their curtains.”

Hurst, who is chairman of the Ala Moana/Kakaako neighborhood board but was not speaking for the board, said he was concerned that the master plan did not include housing for poor people, but for people making an average income or above. Twenty percent of the 4,000 units proposed by Howard Hughes must be “workforce housing,” or affordable to people earning 100 to 140 percent of the area’s median income for a family of four, which is $86,300 in 2013.

While low-income residents might use public transportation, he said that he doubted the owners of luxury condos would, worsening issues with traffic congestion. “They’re not going to be straphangers,” he said. “They want to have their own cars. It’s like that now — people only have to go a couple of blocks, but they take their SUVs.”

Hurst said there had also been concerns in the community that a board of political appointees had made the decisions on a massive development that will transform the neighborhood.

“There exists a general feeling of mistrust that special deals are being made with land developers to benefit a select few as permits are influenced by an appointed commission, not by duly elected representatives,” he said.

The schedule for Ward Village’s build-out will be driven by market demand, said Nick Vanderboom, a senior vice president for development at Howard Hughes.


“We have a historically low level of new building permits for residential units in the last few years, and a shortage of supply of housing on Oahu,” he said. “We believe it will take 10 to 15 years, potentially longer, to redevelop the entire community.”

Presales in Ward Village’s three towers will begin in December or early next year, Vanderboom said.

A 38-story tower with town homes called Waiea, which means “water of life,” will have 171 residences with one, two or three bedrooms. A 36-story tower with townhomes, called Anaha, will have 311 smaller apartments ranging from studios to three-bedroom apartments.

A 44-story unnamed tower, on Halekauwila Street, will have 424 residences, with 375 priced as work force housing. Unit pricing has not yet been determined, and construction should be complete by 2016, he said.

Besides the three towers, Howard Hughes is also renovating a 1960s modernist-style office building that once housed IBM into a Ward Village information center and residential sales gallery, to be completed in early 2014. Since 2010, more than 120,000 square feet of new retail space and a 720-space parking garage have also been added in Kakaako, Vanderboom said.

The complete redevelopment of Kakaako would come close to tripling the population to at least 30,000 residents by 2030 from about 12,000 now, said Anthony J.H. Ching, the executive director of the Hawaii Community Development Authority.


Other big projects are also underway in Kakaako. Late last year, the state chose Forest City Hawaii, a subsidiary of Forest City Enterprises, to develop what may be the state’s tallest building, at 560 feet, as part of a $500 million transit-oriented complex on Pohukaina Street with a mix of affordable and market-rate residential units.

Another large landowner, Kamehameha Schools, has a 15-year plan to build as many as seven towers, up to 400 feet high, surrounded by low-rise units on its 29 acres.

Several other tower projects are underway, such as Symphony, a residential condo tower with about 388 units, and Waihonua at Kewalo, a residential tower with about 400 units.

Under the approved master plan for Ward Village, Howard Hughes can build a total of about 9.3 million square feet on its acreage, which besides the commercial space could amount to 4,000 residential units, Vanderboom said.


In early November, Ward Village received the platinum level certification for eco-friendliness in neighborhood development from the U.S. Green Building Council.

The location of Ward Village’s proposed development alone earned many points toward obtaining the platinum certification, said Aaron Welch, a senior planner and associate with Raimi and Associates, who consulted on the village plan.

“For this project, the location — which was infill, served by transit, near existing amenities like schools, shops, parks — was one of the most important things in helping it score well,” Welch said.

Beyond that, the plans include tree-lined and shaded streets, water-efficient landscaping, recycled content in the infrastructure, lights that minimize light pollution and reflective and vegetative roofs to minimize heat absorption, Welch said.


Along with bicycle- and car-sharing programs, Ward Village plans to make use of bus service and a new light rail line under construction, to reduce reliance on automobiles, Vanderboom said.

“My wife and I live here, and we only own one car,” he said. “I’m fortunate to walk to work every day.”