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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 12:08 p.m., Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Japanese Cultural Center gets reprieve

By Vicki Viotti
Advertiser Staff Writer

The Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai'i today was given an extension on repayment of its $9 million debt, giving it a new lease on life.
The Japanese Cultural Center in Mo'ili'ili will continue operating under an extended reprieve on its mortgage debt.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

Colbert Matsumoto, chairman of the Committee to Save the Center, announced at 11 a.m today that only minutes earlier four lending institutions had agreed to forgive $1.5 million of the interest payment the center owed on the loan. The lenders are Central Pacific Bank, City Bank, Bank of Hawaii and First Hawaiian Bank.

The committee has raised more than $6 million in the past 47 days, Matsumoto said, enough to pay off the principal on the loan. This leaves the committee with $1.5 million to raise by Jan. 1, 2003.

"Because of the overwhelming response we have received from the public, we feel confident that we will be able to raise the money," Matsumoto said.

In order to seal the agreement, the committee gave the banks a $2 million check today, Matsumoto said. The remaining contributions from the community, about 7,000 donors in all, will be deposited, he said. The committee has agreed to pay the remaining debt in installments between now and Jan. 31.

"We thank the banks immensely for what they have done," he added. "We will forever have a debt of gratitude to the banks for their patience they have shown us."

Among the fund-raising efforts being planned is the Japanese New Year's Festival set for Jan. 12.

Matsumoto acknowledged that the center leadership will have to revise its operational strategy to avoid future financial problems. The center hopes to expand its membership, attracting a broader range of participants and plans to involve people of a broader age range in decision-making.

Colbert Matsumoto has headed the committee raising funds for debt repayment over the past 47 days.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

"We need to have programs that appeal to a cross section," he said. "The community really needs to understand that the center isn't for only Japanese people. It was built to service the entire community."

On Dec. 19, the campaign got a public relations boost when Gov. Linda Lingle added her name to the list of honorary chairpersons behind the attempt to keep the 11-year-old Mo'ili'ili center open.

Center officials in the past have acknowledged that the center was begun with inadequate understanding of business strategies to sustain the operation, which includes rental of banquet facilities, and that the center has been examining alternative sources of revenue.

The center's history dates to 1986, when the Honolulu Japanese Chamber of Commerce developed the original plan and gave its leasehold interest of 57,000 square feet of property to the nonprofit Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai'i. The organization agreed to purchase the property from Bishop Estate in 1989.

The center's debt stems from the plan to put up a second building on the property, only 11 months after construction of the $4 million first-phase office building was completed in August 1991. Work on the expansion, which includes a museum, resource center, banquet hall and 250 parking stalls, began in July 1992 and was completed in April 1994 at a cost of $10.8 million using a 20-year mortgage financed by the four banks.

The Legislature this year approved an $8 million appropriation for the center, but it was vetoed by then-Gov. Ben Cayetano.

Reach Vicki Viotti at vviotti@honoluluadvertiser.com or call 525-8053.