Sunday, January 14, 2001
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Posted on: Sunday, January 14, 2001

Hawaiian land deals: chance for greatness ...

... and a potential waterfront masterpiece

Granted, all this talk is at a very preliminary stage. But there are great possibilities in the discussions now under way among the Bishop Museum, Kamehameha Schools, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and others about a series of possible moves and relocations.

The elements of this still very tentative scheme include:

The possible sale of the current "campus" of the Bishop Museum to Kamehameha Schools.

The move of some or all of the Bishop Museum’s functions — particularly the public ones — to new facilities on state land near Honolulu Harbor in Kakaako.

The possible relocation of OHA and perhaps other Hawaiian agencies into a "Hawaiian Center" on the museum’s Kapalama campus.

There are benefits for all organizations in this plan, if it is handled properly. Take them in turn:

Kamehameha Schools would, in effect, be "returning" to its original site if it purchases the Bishop Museum campus in Kapalama. Bishop Hall on the museum grounds is the original Kamehameha school building. And the rest of the campus is just uphill from the museum site.

In a letter to OHA, Kamehameha Schools chief executive officer Hamilton McCubbin floated the idea of a Hawaiian Center on the museum campus. This could house a variety of programs and agencies that deal with Hawaiians in a central and historically appropriate place.

They would also be an automatic resource for the young men and women who are studying at Kamehameha.

Moving the public functions of the museum to Kakaako could be a huge boost for the financially struggling institution. It would put the museum’s public face in a site already targeted for a variety of crowd-attracting activities, including the existing Children’s Museum and a proposed world-class aquarium.

A natural concern would be that it would simply be a move to transform the venerable Bishop Museum into another tourist attraction. But that hardly has to be the case. The idea of the complex of attractions at Kakaako is to aim them at local residents as much as at visitors.

The extra income could help the museum in the important process of revitalizing the collection and scientific work that have suffered through years of budget problems.

Back-of-the-house operations, such as collections management and scientific research, could continue at Kapalama.

Finally, it seems fitting for various Hawaiian agencies to have a home on this historic site. Whether OHA would be interested in moving its entire operation to Kapalama is an open question, however.

OHA trustees have been looking at relocating some of their operations, at least, to the historic federal Post Office Building in the civic center. This location, facing Iolani Palace and close to all other major government buildings, might be the appropriate site for the trustee functions of OHA or whatever successor entity emerges through the self-determination movement. Location alone makes an important statement in this case.

There is a deep need for the various agencies and activities aimed at helping Hawaiians bring their work and their message together. This is true politically, but also physically.

These early plans suggest a way that could happen.

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