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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, April 1, 2006

$1.6 million spent toward aquarium

By Andrew Gomes
Advertiser Staff Writer

The developer of a Ko Olina Resort & Marina aquarium financed by state tax credits reported spending $1.6 million on mostly planning in 2005, up slightly from the previous year.

West Honolulu Attractions LLC, an entity managed by Ko Olina master developer Jeff Stone, yesterday filed its third annual report with the state to account for spending that qualifies for 100 percent repayment in the form of tax credits up to $75 million.

Previous spending on the project at the West O'ahu resort was $1.5 million in 2004 and $345,000 in 2003 after the controversial tax-credit law took effect on June 1, 2003.

The bulk of spending isn't anticipated until 2007 and 2008 when aquarium construction is projected to take place.

Tax credits for spending since 2003 cannot be redeemed until this year, though information about claims won't be available publicly until next year.

Expenses last year for the "world-class" aquarium and other allowed facilities, which include marine research and an international sports training complex, were mainly for planning, design and administrative overhead.

Of the total $1.6 million spent on the project, planning accounted for $709,502, followed by overhead at $406,631. There was also $340,056 spent on design work, and $164,985 of construction.

On the aquarium alone, spending totaled nearly $1.4 million, including $702,081 for planning, $348,376 for overhead and $338,462 for design.

Marine science and mammal research spending totaled $13,513, and included work to relocate the Dolphin Institute from Kewalo Basin, according to Mike Nelson, a Ko Olina Resort vice president.

Spending on a sports training complex, which Nelson said included work on a field at Ko Olina for the NFL Pro Bowl, totaled $106,784, including $80,000 for construction.

Spending on facilities developed or operated with educational institutions totaled $111,958, including $81,298 for construction. Nelson did not have details for this spending category. In a previous year, work in this category included construction on marina facilities for research vessels.

Much of the aquarium design and planning work to date has been conceptual and revised several times as locations and ideas for the project have changed.

Ko Olina officials have said planning work has been difficult because of efforts to integrate the aquarium with other plans at the resort. For instance, because the city classifies the aquarium as a zoo, one plan ran afoul of city rules prohibiting it from being next to a residential condominium. Another plan ran into difficulty because it would have been too close to the ocean.

Designs also have changed, with the current plan calling for traditional exhibits and giant acrylic viewing tubes, as opposed to previous concepts for swim-through lagoon experiences.

Aquarium developers have until 2009 to spend up to $75 million on the project to qualify for the tax credits, which can be redeemed over unlimited years at no more than $7.5 million a year.

A bill considered by legislators earlier this year to repeal the tax credit law failed.

The state Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism is required to verify expenditures to ensure they are qualified costs under the law. No previous expenditures have been disqualified.

Reach Andrew Gomes at agomes@honoluluadvertiser.com.