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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, June 7, 2006

Loft project planned in Kaka'ako

By Andrew Gomes
Advertiser Staff Writer

A local developer plans to turn the old NCR building on the corner of Cooke Street and Kapi'olani Boulevard into loft-style condominiums.

GREGORY YAMAMOTO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Fans of urban living in Honolulu could soon have a new alternative to the glass-clad towers rising throughout the city: take up residence in a transformed old office building.

A local developer is proposing to create loft-style condominiums by remodeling and expanding the former NCR building, a six-story complex at 720 Kapi'olani Blvd. in Kaka'ako.

The plan, if successful, may very well be O'ahu's first office-to-residential building conversion a popular trend in other cities around the country that some local planners and development consultants believe hasn't occurred in Honolulu's modern history.

"This is probably going to be the first of its kind here that I know of," said Andres Albano Jr., senior vice president of real estate consulting firm CB Richard Ellis Hawai'i Inc.

The city doesn't track such conversions, so it's hard to say if similar transformations have been made.

Cooke Clayton LLC, a partnership involving the head of local contractor U.S. Pacific Construction Inc., is proposing to develop and sell 47 residential units on the former NCR building at the corner of Kapi'olani and Cooke Street.

The project, which also includes 7,344 square feet of retail space and 100 parking spaces, involves remodeling the building and expanding its diamondhead wing to add about 60 percent more floor area.

Cooke Clayton partner Chris Deuchar said detailed design work has yet to begin on the "visually challenged" building. But if permitting and design work proceed as hoped, units could be available for sale at the end of this year or early next year.

Deuchar is aiming at a target market below the luxury level, though he said it's too early to estimate unit prices.

Floor levels allow for ceilings upward of 15 feet, while top-floor condos are envisioned with plant-filled rooftop decks similar to buildings in New York City or Chicago.

"It's going to be different than what's been done in Honolulu before," Deuchar said. "This is going to be a little bit of trail blazing."

Cooke Clayton today is scheduled to present its plan to directors of a state agency regulating development in Kaka'ako.

The developer is asking the agency, the Hawai'i Community Development Authority, to encroach slightly into a 10-foot building setback on the NCR property's mauka side.

Cooke Clayton also seeks to build its addition 15 feet higher than the area's standard 45-foot height limit to match the building's 60-foot diamondhead wing.

A public hearing on the development plan is scheduled for July 5 before the agency, which could take action at an Aug. 2 meeting.

John Breinich, chairman of the Ala Moana/Kaka'ako Neighborhood Board, said the Cooke Clayton project generally drew positive feedback at a recent meeting, though the board didn't vote to support or oppose the plan.

"It had a favorable response from most people because it's a small-scale project," he said. "It's not a huge tower."

Arnold Imaoka, a Hawai'i Community Development Authority planner, said he believes the adaptation of the building will add to the character of Kaka'ako. "It'll really add to the fabric of the district, rather than high-rise, high-rise, high-rise," he said.

Imaoka said largely industrial Kaka'ako probably hasn't seen other conversions of old buildings because many aren't well suited for reuse without extensive and costly work.

Many old buildings don't have structural support necessary for residential use, and typically require difficult upgrades to plumbing and other infrastructure.

The former NCR building, named for an Ohio-based firm once known as National Cash Register Co., was built in 1958 and expanded in 1963, according to city records. National Cash Register bought the property in 1974.

In 1998, nonprofit labor welfare organization Unity House bought the site for $5 million, and held it mainly as an investment after deciding not to move operations to the building.

Cooke Clayton, formed by U.S. Pacific President Bill Deuchar, bought the property early last year for $6 million, and initially envisioned remodeling the building and using part of it as a new headquarters for U.S. Pacific.

Reach Andrew Gomes at agomes@honoluluadvertiser.com.