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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Japanese Cultural Center to learn fate today

By Vicki Viotti
Advertiser Staff Writer

Supporters of the embattled Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai'i are waiting anxiously for final word from banking officials on whether today's deadline for repaying a $9 million debt will be extended, saving the center from foreclosure.

Donations sought to keep center

For information about making a donation, call Walter Tagawa at 737-4338, Ext. 224; or Dr. Albert Miyasato at 595-4574. Checks (with the notation Save the Center) should be made payable to the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai'i and mailed to Committee to Save the Center, 3660 Wai'alae Ave., Suite 301, Honolulu, HI 96816.

The Committee to Save the Center, the volunteers who have been trying to raise money for nearly two months, yesterday reached the $6 million mark, said committee chairman Colbert Matsumoto. Committee members have been hopeful that rapid progress since early December would buy them more time.

At about 8:30 a.m. today, the center's board of directors is set to meet and to receive the final verdict on its mortgage loan, held by Central Pacific Bank, First Hawaiian Bank, Bank of Hawaii and City Bank. A public announcement will follow at 11 a.m., Matsumoto said.

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.

If the extension comes through, the center already has planned further fund-raising events, including the Jan. 12 New Year's Festival. But erasing the debt is only part of the issue; the center needs to devise a new operating plan and budget, Matsumoto said.

"We know our challenges are not over," he said.

Susan Kodani, the center's president and executive director, declined comment yesterday. However, in the past she has 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 late 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.

The center's leaders first considered a plan to sell the center and found a buyer willing to pay $11 million, but the plan failed to get sufficient support from center members. Among the concerns of opponents to the sale was the fate of the specially built martial arts dojo and the center's museum, which houses records and artifacts of Hawai'i's early Japanese immigrants.

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