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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 23, 2001

Island Architecture
Building Victoria Ward's bigtop

The Ward Entertainment Center theater complex rendering

By Mike Leidemann
Advertiser Staff Writer

A 12,000-square foot Kevlar canopy that covers the grand staircase at the Ward Entertainment Center has been attracting a lot of attention.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

From its Big Top entrance down to its small-scale popcorn poppers, the new Ward Entertainment Center, which opens Friday, is trying to provide a different kind of movie-going experience.

"We want this to be a destination, a place people are willing to go out of their way to drive to," said Glenn Yim, regional director for Consolidated Amusement, the theater company and main tenant in the complex still being finished by Victoria Ward Ltd.

Traditionally, Hawai'i residents go to the movies on the spur of the moment; that means they often dash out of the house and head for the nearest neighborhood theater, which is why those multiplexes have been sprouting up all over in recent years.

"We think this center will have a different kind of audience," Yim said. "We're going to get people making a day of it, heading to the beach, then a movie, maybe dinner afterward. It's a place people will plan to come to."

To help ensure that, architects from a local firm, Group 70, designed a 156,000-square-foot complex that is eye-catching — and eye-filling — from the outside. Meanwhile, Consolidated hired a Los Angeles firm specializing in theater work, Tanizaki Gottfeld, to work on the 85,000 square feet of theater space it leases inside the building, paying attention to everything from seating to sound systems.

Outside, the building itself is a rather ordinary looking, oversized big box (seven stories tall in most places) that fills almost every inch of space on the site with parking, theaters, restaurants and retail space. But what's really got people talking is the huge tent-like structure that covers a grand staircase entryway and outdoor lobby.

"Looks awful, too overpowering for the whole area," said Jorge Corbalan, a Kailua resident who was waiting for dinner on a recent day at the nearby Kaka'ako Kitchen.

"It's all right — nice, even," said Calvin Santos, an artist from Mo'ili'ili, who was checking things out from a bus stop across the street. "I like the lines, but where's all the water going to go when it rains?"

"I hate the whole thing," said Ward Allen, a University of Hawai'i student returning home from Ala Moana Beach Park. "But I suppose the canopy might be OK, kinda cool."

Well, at least people are paying attention. "We wanted to make a statement," said Jeremy Hsiu, project manager for Group 70. "We definitely wanted to use a different texture that grabs people's attention and holds their focus. People get used to the same old Hawaiian-style architecture. We wanted something different."

The 12,000-square foot stretched canopy is made of Kevlar, the same material used in bulletproof vests, high-strength ropes and high-tech canoes. It's as strong as steel but much lighter and cheaper. The only other place where such a structure has been used on such a grand scale in Hawai'i is the Ka'ahumanu Shopping Center on Maui, although some may have seen similar work at the new Denver International Airport and San Diego Convention Center.

The look might be startling in Hawai'i, but it isn't original. Although more economical for large buildings, so-called tensile structures have recently become popular around the nation for entertainment venues and as covers for walkways, bridges and esplanades.

"In those cases, it's more of a design statement," New York architect Craig Schwitter told a reporter from Office.com. "It's based more on aesthetics than economics."

In the daytime, the Ward Entertainment canopy will be reminiscent of circus tents and provide some welcoming shade for those waiting to enter the theaters on the south-facing balcony. Lit from below at night, the Kevlar is meant to become a lantern and a beacon, not unlike those rolling searchlights that light up the sky at movie premieres.

Next to the grand stairway is an outdoor terrace where those waiting for a movie will be able to catch a glimpse of Ala Moana Park and the Ward Centre and Ward Warehouse shopping and eating centers.

That's not accidental.

"The idea was to create a real synergy with the rest of the neighborhood," Yim said. "We waited a very long time to find the perfect spot to build something like this."

Yim expects those coming to the movies will want to take advantage of the whole range of entertainment, shopping and eating experiences that the new complex offers. And Consolidated is trying to make it easy for them to do that.

"We're going to have a concierge desk inside the theater lobby where people can make dinner reservations at Ward Warehouse or Ward Center, and where kids can check their skateboards or Razor scooters that they were using earlier in the day."

When completed, the Ward Entertainment Complex also plans to have four sit-down restaurants, two take-out eateries and a number of shops. So far, the only announced occupants are Dave & Buster's, L&L and Starbucks Coffee.

A three-story indoor lobby is designed to provide the feel of an outdoor courtyard. Elements from outside the building, such as lamp posts and tile sidewalks, continue inside the lobby.

A video wall composed of 16 big-screen monitors will show trailers from coming attractions, either as one big image or 16 separate ones.

The theater complex will be bigger than anything Hawai'i has seen before. Four of the 16 theaters will seat 500 people and offer 70-foot, wall-to-wall screens on par with the big ones in Consolidated's Waikiki theaters, and sound systems with "subwoofers the size of a Volkswagens," Yim said.

A 100-foot-long concession area will have about 15 checkout lines and be equipped with its own pizza oven and several small-capacity poppers to guarantee that the smell of fresh popcorn fills the lobby, Yim said.

The sheer size of the new complex has raised some concerns about parking in the already well-used neighborhood, but Yim said the company is confident all the new visitors can be accommodated, even at peak times when top-selling movies might bring 30,000 to 40,000 people into the area on one weekend.

Five hundred new parking spaces are built under the complex. They will be supplemented by 2,200 stalls throughout the various Victoria Ward shopping centers and another additional 1,200 stalls that Victoria Ward will provide at various lots during peak periods.

Also opening this weekend: Signature Theatres' Stadium 10 at Windward Mall, with stadium seating and high-back chairs with retractable cup-holder armrests and 100 percent Dolby digital sound.

In honor of the "Pearl Harbor" premiere weekend, the 10 theaters open at 7:40 a.m. Friday, the time the Pearl Harbor assault began as fighter planes passed over the North Shore heading toward the Kane'ohe Marine base. "Pearl Harbor" will be showing on three screens. Advance tickets are on sale.