What’s happening to dozens of vacated properties purchased for rail?


Long before Honolulu’s rail project reaches town, dozens of properties on the proposed route have already been bought and businesses moved out.

So with construction in that area still years away and far from a certainty, what is the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation doing with the vacant land in the meantime?

Even though there’s still a question about how to pay to get the rail all the way to Ala Moana, some land near the end of the line has already been bought or condemned for HART.

So we looked into what HART is doing with the land that’s in limbo, and found out it’s looking for more folks willing to rent the property while they wait for the train to get there.

We’ve seen the bulldozers come in and the fences go up. It’s a pattern that repeats whenever the rail authority takes over a parcel destined to be part of the rail route.

Some got the treatment years ahead of the rail project reaching the area.

“You know, it’s so sad. I would be really upset if it was one of my businesses on that property, and you drive by and see it empty,” said Honolulu City Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi.

Every so often though, signs of life are springing up, like in Kakaako, around Kona and Waimanu streets. It’s not rail work, but actually temporary tenants for what HART calls incidental use.

“HART is concerned. We would like to generate income in the meantime to help while we’re waiting for rail stations to get built and the guideway along the way,” said Damien Kim, HART board of directors chairman. “I believe the board brought this up and we wanted to be able to make it available for those who wanted to use it for parking, where we could get some income generated for those properties.”

It wasn’t as easy. HART had to get Federal Transit Administration approval for short-term leases.

Sixteen parcels got the green light to go to market, “but from what I understand, we did go out. We did ask people to send a request, and unfortunately, we didn’t get any requests fulfilled,” Kim said, “and I think part of the reason is because we don’t know when we need access to those properties, whether to do surveys or testing, in which case then the persons who use those properties would have to move.”

Always Investigating asked, could more interest be drummed up in those and thereby bring HART and the taxpayers some money back in the meantime?

“We’re hoping for anybody to use it. We understand ‘Hawaii Five-0’ is using some of the parking lots,” Kim said.

The show is renting lots in the Kona and Waimanu area for everything from equipment and prop storage to sets and on-site filming. HART says they pay about $100 a day.

From all of the renters so far, they’ve been bringing in about $100,000 a year, give or take.

“It’s nothing, and I’ve also asked them about the liability. If someone gets hurt on that property remaining empty, who is liable? Who is maintaining that, so it is not an eyesore, especially near Ala Moana Center?” Kobayashi said.

HART says these deals come with exactly that side benefit.

“They’re maintaining the parking area and keeping it nice for us as well,” Kim said. “The benefits I guess is somebody overseeing that property, where HART is not having to hire security. Some of these places you have the homeless moving into there, so that helps to keep that area nice as well and keep the property safe from illegal activities that might be going on, so it is a concern to have just vacant lots and having fencing around it.”

Near one of the island’s homeless shelters, the Institute for Human Services has signed on to rent some parcels for parking, and notices give folks in the area a heads up.

But the list of renters is far shorter than the list of parcels approved for incidental use. There’s just the movie lots, the shelter parking, and a paid-parking lot on the edge of Chinatown along Kekaulike Street.

“We would really wish that somebody would take advantage to use that property for a while in a positive way,” Kim said.

Always Investigating asked Kobayashi, what can you do to help keep better tabs on this?

“I introduced a resolution before, asking them to plan better and have a plan for what are you going to do with these properties and how can you keep people on them,” she replied. “Now that they’re razed and empty, they should go out and seek someone, food trucks or whatever it takes. It’s not like they’re rolling in money, so they should try to make as much money as they can.”

HART is now trying to hold off on early buys whenever possible to keep lots from sitting in limbo.

“As much as we want to purchase as quickly as we can only because of the rising rates of real estate, we have to make sure let’s get the GE tax. Let’s not overbuy something we don’t need at this time,” Kim said.


Click through our interactive maps to view HART properties that are currently being rented out.

NBC Universal and Eye Productions (click to open in new tab):

Institute for Human Services (click to open in new tab):

ProPark (click to open in new tab):

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