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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, January 31, 2003

Mo'ili'ili center meets deadline

By Vicki Viotti
Advertiser Staff Writer

The Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai'i has met its end-of-the-month deadline to pay off debts to its four principal lending institutions, although officials for the fund-raising effort said yesterday that about $600,000 more needs to be raised to pay other creditors, some of whose red ink has been on the books for years.

The center's management also this week announced a reorganization, with former University of Hawai'i president Fujio Matsuda named chairman of the board.

The financially troubled center in Mo'ili'ili last fall embarked on whirlwind fund raising with the goal of erasing about $9 million in debt that threatened the facility with foreclosure by the end of the year.

About $7.5 million of that debt was owed to the holders of the center's principal mortgage — Central Pacific Bank, City Bank, Bank of Hawaii and First Hawaiian Bank, said Colbert Matsumoto, chairman of the Committee to Save the Center, the ad hoc fund-raising group.

In 45 days, the committee raised $6 million, and the institutions agreed to waive $1.5 million in interest payments. That effectively cleared the debt with the banks, under the condition that by today the center would have collected outstanding pledges, deposited the checks and turned the money over to the banks, Matsumoto said.

Of the $1.5 million remaining from the total debt of $9 million, only about $300,000 — money owed for property taxes — was due by Feb. 20, Matsumoto said. The rest of the $1.5 million is in back debts for services ranging from elevators to janitors, all long overdue but not part of the banks' end-of-the-month payment.

Earlier reports indicated that the last bill had to be paid by today, but Matsumoto yesterday said the committee is duty-bound only to pay them "as soon as possible."

The goal is to clear the last of the bills by June 30 so the center can start the new fiscal year with "a clean slate," he said.

On Tuesday the center's board elected Matsuda its new chairman to replace Don Takaki, who stepped down after declaring a conflict of interest because he also is on the board of Bank of Hawaii, a major creditor.

Four other board members were appointed to fill vacancies caused by resignations, some of them also due to conflicts, Matsuda said. New members are Donn Ariyoshi, financial adviser and son of former Gov. George Ariyoshi; Brandon Hayashi, a writer for the Hawaii Herald; attorney Francis Sogi; and Eric Martinson, a principal in MN Developers Capital Partners.

Four new committees were formed to involve a broader group of members in developing a strategic plan; reviewing governance and managerial issues; planning programming, membership and fund-raising initiatives; and revising the center's business plan.

"We want to establish clear guidelines: Who do we serve, and how do we do it?" Matsuda said. "We need to define that so that going forward, the community will have confidence that 'these people know what they're doing.' "