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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, June 30, 2006

Can Ala Moana Center get any bigger?

Ala Moana Center photo gallery

By Andrew Gomes
Advertiser Staff Writer

Ala Moana's mauka wing will house a Nordstrom and other retailers. It opens in May 2008.

Advertiser library photo

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Original Ala Moana Center tenants in 1959 that are still at the mall today:

Crack Seed Center, Foodland, Longs Drugs, Reyns, Sears, Shirokiya, Slipper House and Watumull's.

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Before Ala Moana was originally acquired by Walter F. Dillingham from Bishop Estate in 1912, there was a swamp, filled with coral from nearby dredging projects between then and the 1950s.

Advertiser library photo

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Ala Moana Center is undergoing its biggest expansion since 1999, when Neiman Marcus was added. By the time the latest expansion is complete in 2008, the center will have grown to more than 2 million square feet ? roughly triple its original size in 1959.

REBECCA BREYER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Stores and restaurants opening this year

  • Pearl
  • Theory
  • Hibachi-san
  • Kyoto Osho
  • Juicy Couture
  • Tsukiji Fish Market & Restaurant
  • Miss Sixty / Energie
  • Domiani
  • Aldo Shoes

Stores and restaurants opened since July 2004

  • Cookie Corner
  • David & Goliath
  • Solar Nail Spa
  • Kirin Restaurant
  • Sandal Tree
  • Betsey Johnson
  • Lady Foot Locker
  • Maui Divers Jewelry
  • Sole Mio
  • Tori Richard
  • Abercrombie & Fitch Men's
  • PacSun
  • Hollister Co.
  • The Children's Place
  • Build-A-Bear Workshop
  • Journeys
  • Animation Magic
  • Ruby Tuesday
  • Splash! Kids
  • Cole Haan
  • Tony Roma's Express
  • Lush
  • Bobby Jones
  • Cheeseburger Factory
  • Steak and Fish Company
  • Tumi
  • Barnes & Noble Booksellers
  • Alfred Dunhill
  • Puma
  • World of Charms
  • Up & Riding
  • The Pacific Place Tea Garden
  • Quiznos Sub
  • Harry Winston
  • Okazu-ya
  • Islands Fine Burgers & Drinks
  • Max & Co.
  • Rip Curl
  • Rokkaku
  • Ruehl No. 925
  • Mani Pedi Spa
  • Lacoste
  • Luxi
  • L'Occitane
  • Clarks
  • The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf
  • Jimmy Choo
  • Marble Slab Creamery
  • Philip Rickard
  • Patisserie La Palme D'or
  • Ben Bridge Timeworks
  • LeSportsac
  • Bonheur

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Ala Moana Center, in the midst of its fifth major expansion since it opened nearly 50 years ago as the largest mall in the United States, finally may be running out of space to grow.

When the new mauka wing housing a three-story Nordstrom, 800 parking spaces and up to 15 retailers opens in March 2008, the venerable mall will have grown to more than 2 million square feet ? roughly triple the size when the first shoppers walked its corridors in 1959.

And that will leave little room for another major growth spurt.

"I don't know where we would put anything else," said Sharon James, regional marketing vice president for Ala Moana owner General Growth Properties Inc. "That's not to say that it can't be done. But we don't have anything planned."

Ala Moana, which lost its distinction as the largest American mall years ago, most likely will continue its reign as the state's largest shopping complex and be the most potent draw for resident and tourist shoppers whose shopping habits largely have adapted as the mall has evolved over the last half century.

When it opened in 1959, Ala Moana featured national and local retailer staples including Sears, Woolworth's, Hartfields, McInerny, Watumull's, Foodland and Shirokiya.

Subsequent expansion phases included a diamondhead wing anchored by J.C. Penney and Liberty House in 1966, the food court addition in 1987, a partial third level of luxury retailers in 1989 and Neiman Marcus and more third-level retail in 1999.


Kama'aina shoppers at the mall yesterday said the mall's changes mostly have been positive, though some miss the atmosphere of yesteryear.

"I remember McInerny, Ritz ... Farrell's, Keiki Land ... all the old-school stores," said David Lee of Honolulu. "I don't think it's for the local people anymore.

"It's a big-money thing," added Lee, 40. "I'd rather go to Pearlridge. I just come here for the crack seed" at Crack Seed Center, an original Ala Moana tenant.

Hawai'i Kai resident Kevin M. Loo, a 41-year-old musician who said he was singing on Ala Moana's Center Stage when he was 5 years old, believes the mall has done an excellent job mixing stores and restaurants with value to high-end merchandise from local and national tenants.

"Long-term, it's excellent," he said, looking forward to Nordstrom and more stores opening. "They're going to make it like the biggest malls in the Mainland."

Charlotte Nakamura, a 62-year-old retiree from Honolulu, remembers when Sears was the mall's only department store anchor. "There's been so much changes," she said. "I feel overwhelmed sometimes with all these high-end shops."


Ala Moana's customer base has fluctuated with the economy, starting with local residents, welcoming more tourists during Hawai'i's visitor industry boom, keying on high-spending Japanese visitors in the late 1980s, and refocusing on kama'aina over the past decade. Today, the customer mix is about evenly split between residents and visitors.

Owners of the Cathedral Gift Shop have seen all the change brought on by Ala Moana since the mall opened on reclaimed swamp land, and shifted the epicenter of O'ahu's retail district from downtown Honolulu to the fancy new shopping center with 87 stores and parking for 7,000 cars.

Bryan Siu, Cathedral Gift's president and general manager, said his mother, who owned and ran the store originally located downtown on Fort Street, saw the benefit of operating at the mall where Cathedral Gift has been since 1963.

"My mom fell in love with the concept that the customer could have free parking," he said. "Change is necessary."

Siu said adding Nordstrom will help keep the mall, and Cathedral Gift, competitive. "How can a premier mall not have that level of store?" he said. "It'll be fabulous for the shopping center."


Ala Moana's James predicted Nordstrom, a major department store without another location in Hawai'i, will be a huge new draw.

"I think any time you add an anchor to a center, it's pretty significant," she said. "You're actually adding a new dynamic."

James expects the 200,000-square-foot Nordstrom store will broaden the mall's appeal more than any tenant since Neiman Marcus. But there have been about 50 new shops added to the mall in the past two years that have helped refine the mall's character.

Most of the newest stores filled space vacated when J.C. Penney pulled out of Hawai'i in 2003. The 220,000 square feet of Penney space was transformed into 140,000 square feet of usable space for tenants including Barnes & Noble, Romano's Macaroni Grill, Build-A-Bear Workshop, Hollister and Maui Divers Jewelry.

A few more tenants are expected to open in the former Penney area this year, including a nightclub called Pearl and a combination 350-seat restaurant and fish market named after Tokyo's famous Tsukiji Fish Market.


Tenants for the planned wing connecting the existing mall with Nordstrom fronting Kapi'olani Boulevard have not been determined. But James said they will probably appeal to Nordstrom's typical customer.

The mauka wing under construction is likely to boost Ala Moana's average sales per square foot. The average, at about $1,200, is among the three highest for any mall in the country. Total annual sales at Ala Moana are more than $1 billion.


Donald Graham, who managed the center as it was being developed by Dillingham Corp., said he's not surprised by how big the mall has grown.

"We always hoped that it would be bigger," he said. "I've enjoyed seeing it happen."

Graham believes that after the Nordstrom wing is finished, Ala Moana's owner will direct future retail growth to nearby Victoria Centers, which General Growth bought in 2002.

"General Growth is a growth company," Graham said. "But I don't see how they can (expand Ala Moana any further). They're packed now. I think it's done."


1912: Walter F. Dillingham of Hawaiian Dredging Co. pays $25,000 for 50 acres of swamp land, using the area to deposit coral from nearby dredging projects.

1948: Lowell Dillingham, Walter's son and president of Hawaiian Dredging affiliate Hawaiian Land Co., announces plans for a shopping complex at the Ala Moana site.

1957: Construction begins. 1959: Initial 680,000-square-foot phase opens with 87 stores on two levels; charter tenants include Sears, Woolworth, McInerny, Foodland, a Longs drugstore and Shirokiya.

1966: Second phase opens, doubling mall size to 1.35 million square feet, 155 stores and 7,800 parking spaces; new stores include J.C. Penney and Liberty House.

1976: J.C. Penney expands store to a fourth level.

1980: Liberty House adds a fourth level, increasing mall space to 1.5 million square feet.

1982: Shopping center and two adjacent office buildings bought by Japan-based retail giant Daiei Inc. and insurer Equitable Cos. for about $300 million.

1987: Mall completes a third phase and major renovation that includes the 900-seat Makai Market food court.

1990: Fourth major expansion is completed, adding a third level to the middle of the mall filled by luxury stores focusing on boom in Japanese visitors eager for high-end fashion merchandise.

1995: Daiei acquires Equitable's 40 percent stake in the center for $410 million.

1996: Construction begins on a fifth phase — a 160,000-square-foot Neiman Marcus store, and 160,000 square feet of third-floor space for 30 stores and restaurants to open, respectively, in 1998 and 1999.

1998: Plans announced for a 450-room hotel and 543,000-square-foot entertainment-retail complex featuring theme restaurants and Virgin Entertainment Group movie theaters and music megastore.

1999: The mall's management firm, Chicago-based General Growth Properties Inc., buys Ala Moana for $810 million, and puts entertainment complex plan on indefinite hold.

2000: Department-store chain Nordstrom abandons 4-year-old plan for store at Ala Moana after Liberty House sues to block the move.

2001: Four-level parking addition with 475 stalls added to the mall's 'ewa-mauka corner.

2003: J.C. Penney closes, freeing up 220,000 square feet of space on four levels.

2004: Nordstrom announces new plan for a store at Ala Moana as part of a mauka wing envisioned on the former planned entertainment complex site; new stores begin to fill J.C. Penney space.

2005: An expanded fourth level including former J.C. Penney space is created for four major restaurants, including Romano's Macaroni Grill and Islands Burgers & Drinks.

2006: Construction begins for 200,000-square-foot Nordstrom store, 70,000 square feet of retail space and 800-stall parking garage.

2008: Nordstrom slated to open with up to 15 other retailers, expanding the mall to more than 2 million square feet.

Reach Andrew Gomes at agomes@honoluluadvertiser.com.

Correction: The Ala Moana Shopping Center site was originally acquired by Walter F. Dillingham from Bishop Estate in 1912 when it was a swamp. It was gradually filled in with material from dredging projects between then and the 1950s. Information in a photo caption in a previous version of this story was incorrect.

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