Part 3: The fight to keep Kakaako

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Like any business opportunity, when there is money to be made, it’s critical to maximize your return on your investment.

In the case of Kaka‘ako, the investment is development.

“This is the last open shoreline in downtown Honolulu. This presents Hawaii in Honolulu,” said Kaka‘ako resident Sharon Moriwaki.

It’s that sentiment that has many fighting to save their Kaka‘ako, which is bounded by Pi‘ikoi, King and Punchbowl streets, and Ala Moana Boulevard. Kaka‘ako also includes the waterfront area from Kewalo Basin to Forrest Avenue and the Hawaiian Electric Company power plant site.

Kakaako master plan model
Kaka‘ako master plan model

Advocates say state law requires development in Kaka‘ako to be mixed-use, mixed-density and mixed-income.

“I think (Hawai‘i Community Development Authority’s) fault was that they were building. They were developers. They weren’t planners. What you need are people who will take the stewardship that’s granted to them by their being appointed and making sure that they follow the plan. They involve the people who live and work and visit Kaka‘ako,” said Moriwaki.

“It should be a mixed-use area in the fullest sense. There should be recreational space. The Millennials should feel free to come down and participate in the co-working space,” said Jay Fidell, CEO of ThinkTech Hawai‘i.

The controversy extends all the way to the ocean.

“With all the madness coming on the mauka side, we need more open space and park,” said Ron Iwami, president of Friends of Kewalos.

“There’s a lot of open space here and in the midst of the dense city, when you look and see open space, you want to preserve that open space,” said Bishop Museum historian DeSoto Brown.

Kakaako construction
Kaka‘ako construction

But some of that open space is about to change.

“I fear when we look again in four to five years, we’ll see a forest of high-rise condos,” said Fidell.

Developer Howard Hughes describes the new Kaka‘ako as a coastal community in the heart of Honolulu. Simply stated, it will soon be a cool place to live.

But before things get cool, many will need to cope with change.

“Change must be accepted and what it turns into just with everything else we’re going to have like some things and not like some things but it isn’t going to not happen,” Brown said.

Landowner Kamehameha Schools says change can be done without losing sight of legacy and responsibility.

“It’s very important that they understand not only the lineage of Kamehameha and Pauahi, but also the lineage of the land and understanding its uses, the cultural connections we have to it,” said Kamehameha Schools CEO Livingston “Jack” Wong. “As we approach our lands, we understand that kuleana we have to continue to be good stewards of these lands.”

Hawaii Childrens Discovery Center
Hawai‘i Childrens Discovery Center

The Hawai‘i Children’s Discovery Center moved to Kaka‘ako 17 years ago.

“We moved here as pioneers in the area and people still call us pioneers today,” said Loretta Yajima, chair, board of directors, Hawai‘i Children’s Discovery Center.

One of its neighbors is the John A. Burns School of Medicine, which proudly calls Kaka‘ako home and understands its role in the community goes beyond classrooms and labs.

“We are at a cutting edge of a very important moment in time, but what’s important is we’re not just university focused. We’re really embedded in the community and that’s one of the unique things of having this site at Kaka‘ako,” said Dr. Jerris Hedges, JABSOM dean.

Photo: John A. Burns School of Medicine
Photo: John A. Burns School of Medicine

But critics of the new Kaka‘ako are still asking one simple question.

“We can’t afford that, no. We can’t live there, so who are they building for?” said Moriwaki.

“I think the big change that is taking place is no longer an emphasis on taking care of the people who live in Kaka‘ako or other places going into Kaka‘ako area,” said former Hawaii Gov. George Ariyoshi.

“If you were to look at sales figures, I think you’ll see that an overwhelming majority of people that are buying in Kaka‘ako, and I believe it’s in the 70-80 percentile, would be local people,” said Anthony Ching of Hawai‘i Community Development Authority (HCDA).

Many also question if the current infrastructure is prepared for such growth.

There are still problems with flooding following heavy rains, and area businesses and residents will tell you the odor of sewage can be overwhelming at times.

“Let’s say ’76, ’86, ’96, 2006, 2015, $200 million, 40 years ago. What has been done between now and then?” asked Moriwaki.

Line at The Collection Sales Gallery
Line at The Collection Sales Gallery

Fidell is a Kaka‘ako observer who says the makai-side of the area has struggled with development.

“Kaka‘ako since 2000 has been a series of frustrated, great ideas,” he said. “There were a number of projects contemplated in and around Ilalo Street, and none of them got built, except the cancer research center, in scaled down form.”

On the mauka side, “there were a handful of tech companies that moved in, most recently starting in 2009 or ’10. There were co-working spaces and right now there’s a couple of co-working spaces,” Fidell said.

“We saw all these high-rises going up in the last 10 years then only recently it hit. They’re going to be building the new one across the street right here,” said Chris Kamaka, production manager of Kamaka Ukulele.

Sadly, the changes may force Kamaka Ukulele to make changes of its own.

Kamaka Ukulele
Kamaka Ukulele

“We’ve been looking for a bigger place because of what’s happening around here. We may have to relocate to somewhere more industrial related,” said Chris Kamaka.

It’s something owner Sam Kamaka Jr. may not agree with but understands. “It’s different and people have got to adjust their lives. We have to adjust too. We have to move the shop eventually,” he said.

“The thing that really bothers me is that we have forgotten about Hawai‘i’s people and that they have lost. Hawai‘i’s people have lost a place in Kaka‘ako,” Ariyoshi said.

Part 2 | Main | Part 4

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