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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, July 26, 2001

Kukui mall to undergo $15 million overhaul

By Andrew Gomes
Advertiser Staff Writer

After two years of planning, Grove Farm Co. expects to begin a complete overhaul and expansion of Kaua'i's largest mall, Kukui Grove Center, in the next 60 days.

This artist's rendering shows what the expansion of Kukui Grove Center, Kaua'i's largest mall, is expected to look like. See story.

MC Architects

The roughly $15 million project, nudged ahead after AOL Time Warner Chairman Steve Case bought Grove Farm last December, is expected to last two years. Major construction should get under way in the first quarter of 2002.

Wade Lord, general manager of the Lihu'e center, said the renovation will include bringing in new tenants, resizing store spaces, increasing leaseable area and reconfiguring the "dumbbell" shape by opening up the inside of the open-air mall.

"We're talking a totally different environment," he said. "It's very kind of introverted, and that's been a problem."

Kukui Grove, the island's only regional shopping center, was hurt by damage and effects of Hurricane 'Iniki in 1992, then suffered from Hawai'i's lagging economy and the departure of JC Penney & Co. and Woolworth in the mid-'90s.

Business has improved lately, with sales at the mall higher for the first several months of the year over the same period last year. The renovation, when complete, is expected to improve center performance.

Lord said about 20,000 square feet will be added to the 313,000-square-foot mall. He said he could not identify prospective tenants, but said center management is negotiating with national big-box retailers, restaurant chains and local regional tenants.

David Pratt, Grove Farm president, said such a major renovation and tenant additions should help reduce the "escape to O'ahu" syndrome of residents taking shopping trips to the state's major island. "It should help keep the shopping dollars on Kaua'i," he said. "We're excited about it."

Hana Habu, owner of mall tenant and Hawaiian-wear retailer Tropical Heat, expects the changes will improve customer traffic and views at the mall. "I'm really looking forward to it," she said. "I think it's going to attract a lot of people — residents and tourists."

The upcoming work on the center will be one of two major construction projects by Grove Farm since the Hawai'i-born Case bought the company for an estimated $26 million plus the assumption of $61 million of debt.

The company is moving forward with plans to build up Puakea Golf Course from 10 to 18 holes by the end of next year. Construction on the links, halted in the wake of 'Iniki, should begin this summer.

Once one of Kaua'i's largest sugar plantations with 22,000 acres in cultivation, Grove Farm stopped growing cane in 1976 to concentrate on redeveloping its real estate. Kukui Grove opened in 1982. It has 45 stores and restaurants.

Lord said that when Case took over, "he was very enthusiastic about taking (the Kukui Grove project) through and making it happen."

Said Pratt: "It's a long-term investment in the center. We just want to bring it back to the prominence that it had before."