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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, February 13, 2005

Best, worst of city life co-exist on Kapi'olani

 •  Chart: Development plans for Kapi'olani Boulevard

By James Gonser
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer

Kapi'olani Boulevard is a crowded 3-mile stretch of business and residential towers, shops and bars, entertainment and meeting centers and a traffic nightmare during rush hour or construction — and it is about to be developed even further.

The Marco Polo is one of the high-rises that line Kapi'olani Boulevard. One resident says of Kap'iolani: "You can go buy a BMW, get your hair cut and eat any type of food you want. Everything you could want to do is on Kapi'olani and nothing is far away from you on this street. I just think it is a great place to live."

Photos by Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

With hundreds of new condominiums being built and millions of dollars in commercial projects planned, Kapi'olani Boulevard's best use has been widely debated by property owners and architectural planners. But one thing everyone agrees on is that change is coming and that it needs to be carefully planned.

The strip has been compared to Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles or Michigan Avenue in Chicago with its wide six-lane tree-covered expanse and diverse mix of business and residential use.

"You can go buy a BMW, get your hair cut and eat any type of food you want," said Glen Schmitt, a resident of the Marco Polo apartment building. "Everything you could want to do is on Kapi'olani and nothing is far away from you on this street. I just think it is a great place to live."

One end of the boulevard is anchored by the Honolulu Advertiser building followed by upscale automobile dealerships and tree-shaded sidewalks stretching to Ward Avenue. Market City Shopping Center is located at the kokohead end, but here Kapi'olani Boulevard is considered neglected with many low-income, graffiti-tagged two-story walkups.

In between are the Neal Blaisdell Center and the Hawai'i Convention Center, providing venues for entertainment and large gatherings, and the Ala Wai Community Park, which provides activities for hundreds of seniors, canoe paddlers and sports teams. There are also strip bars and sex shops that residents say attract crime.

Joe Haas, managing director of real estate firm CB Richard Ellis, said that with Kapi'olani Boulevard property selling for more than $150 a square foot, the street is "hot, hot, hot."

"Our economy and market hasn't been better since statehood and it is improving rapidly," Haas said. "I think prices are headed back to the $200 range."

Kem Lowry, chairman of the University of Hawai'i urban and regional planning department, said Kapi'olani has the potential to become a world-class street where people can live, work and play. But it needs a range of housing options including affordable units, pedestrian-friendly sidewalks and building setbacks that allow views of the mountains and the ocean.

The 3-mile thoroughfare that is Kapi'olani Boulevard includes this tree-lined expanse of high-rises, empty lots and street-level storefronts. As traffic increases, safety is a concern for residents.
"We have to think beyond building-by-building development for that corridor," Lowrey said. "We have to think about street-scapes and viewscapes. That is very hard to do because that means architects have to think not only about their building, but the building next to it. Clients don't always want that. They want the maximum build out.

"If you think about the cities we like to spend time in, they are walkable cities. They are cities where you are encouraged to get out of your car. Right now we tend to use Kapi'olani as a corridor for getting from A to B and it doesn't have to be that way."

The biggest single change coming to the boulevard is the expansion of Ala Moana Center and the construction of a Nordstrom store. The 200,000-square-foot store will be bordered by Kapi'olani Boulevard and Kona, Ke'eaumoku and Kaheka streets. The project will displace a dozen or so businesses in the area, including Bakery Kapi'olani and a church but not the Ala Moana Pacific Center.

Jeff Dinsmore is vice president of development for the Hawai'i region for General Growth, the company that owns Ala Moana. Dinsmore said Nordstrom is expected to open in fall 2007 or spring 2008 after 18 to 24 months of construction.

"The stuff on that block are older structures that have been in a holding pattern," Dinsmore said. "As far as creating a more inviting retail streetfront, we envision the building, a parking structure on the ground floor and retail. It will really bring retail to that entire block."

Eric Rice thumbs through comic books at the Last Sanctuary. The shop managers fear rising rents as Kapi'olani is further developed.
The family-owned Bakery Kapi'olani opened in 1956 and will close when construction begins. Second-generation manager Stan Imia has been running it for the last 21 years.

"That is the way it is nowadays," Imia said. "We have to expect development. I know (Kapi'olani) is going to lose that hometown feel. It's going to look a lot more like the Mainland."

Just a few doors down at the Last Sanctuary comic book and collectors shop, store managers worry that rents in the new building will be so high, local small businesses won't be able to afford to stay.

"We are pretty much just going to stay here until we can't stay here anymore," said co-manager Lucas Martin.

Residents are hoping that along with increased investment in Kapi'olani, some of the seedier elements of the commercial district such as the strip clubs and sex shops will be forced out.

In December, police and federal agents arrested a 50-year-old Honolulu woman and charged her with running a drug business at her Swing Video store at 1304 Kapi'olani Blvd.

"We would like to see that whole area cleaned up," said John Breinich, chairman of the Ala Moana/ Kaka'ako Neighborhood Board. "Swing Video was our primary objective because it was just the worst. It's not the pornography. That is not the problem. The problem is the drugs and the influence around that neighborhood with the drug dealing. It was just horrible."

Breinich said Kapi'olani is very walkable in parts and the new developments coming in must keep pedestrian use in mind.

"We would like to see Kapi'olani improved in its overall look," Breinich said. "One thing a lot of people are concerned about is that it keeps its pedestrian-friendly flavor. So that it is a place people feel comfortable walking and not just a monolith of big storefront walls."

Schmitt, assistant manager of the Marco Polo, is concerned that the projects will bring even more cars, so he said planners should take into consideration traffic safety for residents.

"There is heavy traffic every day," Schmitt said. "The intersection at Isenberg is one of the most dangerous in the state. Kids crossing the street and older residents, it takes two lights for them to get across."

Just past Date Street is an area where wrecked cars and old mattresses are abandoned on the dirt path that serves as a sidewalk. Across the street is an old Japanese cemetery.

"There are three reasons why I wanted to live here: the schools, the stores, the rent," said Micronesian immigrant Brinton Palik who lives in a two-bedroom apartment with his wife and three children at Maunawai Place.

Palik has lived there for three years and pays $900 a month for his ground-floor apartment.

"It is a lot, but I have no other choice," said Palik, who works two jobs to support his family.

Palik likes the neighborhood although three bicycles have been stolen from behind his home. "I don't have any complaints," he said. "Nobody bother anybody."

But with real estate prices skyrocketing, planners say redevelopment is inevitable.

"Those places provide badly needed lower-cost housing, but they are not very attractive," said Lowry. "Tearing them down is probably inevitable, given the cost of rental housing and somebody is going to snap them up."

The planned residential developments at Ward Avenue and Pensacola Street and the commercial projects at Kamake'e and Clayton streets are all within the jurisdiction of the Hawaii Community Development Authority, which has a say in the planning.

Dan Dinell, executive director of HCDA, said developers in the area must submit plans for their projects. The authority then can ask that the plans be made more "user-friendly."

"For instance, in the case of Public Storage they came with the concept of a typical public storage facility much like you would see anywhere else in the country," Dinell said. "We really worked very hard with them and in the end got them to have retail frontage along Kapi'olani including a display area. So the frontage along Kapi'olani there is no driveway and there is a meandering pedestrian walkway."

Dinell said the company set the building back and created a focal point, a little clock tower, and moved the parking to the rear.

At 909 Kapi'olani, the authority asked the developer to add retail frontage to the residential building and they agreed, Dinell said.

"When I think of Kapi'olani Boulevard, whether you are walking or driving, its a very important boulevard. What we are seeing is with more activation of the street level with shops, restaurants and so forth. So Kapi'olani Boulevard becomes more than simply an important passageway, it becomes a boulevard with a lot of activity and energy."

Reach James Gonser at 535-2431 or jgonser@honoluluadvertiser.com.