Ward plan includes 4,000 new residences
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By Andrew Gomes
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Andrew Gomes
The owner of Ward Centers yesterday unveiled a vision to gradually redevelop its 60-acre Kaka'ako property with a mix of retail and 4,000 residential units under a 20-year master plan.
The project by General Growth Properties would ultimately involve replacing everything that exists on its Ward land today — including Ward Warehouse, Ward Centre, Ward Entertainment Center and the IBM Building — but is envisioned to start in 2011 with a pedestrian plaza replacing old warehouses and the Ward Farmers Market.
The "Ward Neighborhood" project will include a mix of low-rise and high-rise housing at affordable to upscale prices integrated with more retail, open public spaces and a nearby transit station planned by the city, said Thomas D'Alesandro, senior vice president of development for General Growth.
Some area residents welcome such high-density development on the Ward site, while others are concerned that 4,000 more residences will exacerbate growing traffic congestion and block views already threatened by an ongoing condominium tower construction boom in Kaka'ako.
"We are condo'd out," Cheryl Lee, a resident in the 2-year-old Ko'olani tower on Queen Street, said in an e-mail.
To give a sense of potential density, 4,000 units is roughly equivalent to 10 to 15 high-rises, though D'Alesandro said General Growth intends to create significant mauka-makai view planes and isn't going to build a curtain of towers along Ala Moana.
"We see it as a new kind of neighborhood bringing new life and opportunity to the heart of Honolulu," said D'Alesandro.
Chicago-based General Growth, which also owns Ala Moana Center, has been contemplating how to proceed with redevelopment of Ward Centers since it bought the collection of mostly retail complexes in 2002 from Honolulu-based Victoria Ward Ltd., which had its own plans for a live-work-play urban village on the site.
Yesterday D'Alesandro presented a broad conceptual idea for redevelopment to directors of the Hawai'i Community Development Authority, the state agency overseeing development rules for Kaka'ako.
General Growth's next step will be to formulate and present more detailed plans in April after meeting with community members and other interested parties who would help the company focus its vision.
The property is roughly bounded by Ala Moana, Queen Street, a cluster of property just 'ewa of Ward Avenue and the IBM Building next to Border's.
"We envision a dynamic gathering place where a diverse mix of residents and visitors will enjoy window-shopping, dine in cafes and gather in great plazas, just steps from their homes, offices or transportation options," D'Alesandro said.
Retail would continue to be a major presence in the neighborhood, with space for about 400 retail tenants, up from about 300 today.
Development would be designed to take advantage of the city's planned mass-transit system slated to run along Queen Street with a station near Ward Avenue. D'Alesandro said the proximity of the envisioned high-density neighborhood will help generate ridership for the system.
Auahi Street would be improved to make it more pedestrian-friendly, though automobile traffic would continue on the street.
A planned Whole Foods Market, which is under construction and slated to open in January, will not be affected. However, an unresolved issue over handling iwi, or burial remains, on adjacent property has made construction of a 218-unit rental apartment building uncertain.
The first phase of redevelopment under the new master plan is a 3-acre public pedestrian plaza between Queen and Auahi streets in the place of Ward Farmers Market and a few industrial warehouse buildings between Sports Authority and the theater complex. In a future phase, the plaza would be extended to Ala Moana through what is now the middle of Ward Warehouse overlooking Kewalo Basin.
"Right now, Ward (Centers) really doesn't celebrate its presence on the marina," D'Alesandro said. He added that the property is largely a collection of retail parts that aren't terribly integrated. "It's good today. It's fully functional. ... It just doesn't function as one place. We think it can be a lot more."
The Ward Centers property was once a piece of a kama'aina family estate that for more than 130 years was owned by descendants of Victoria Robinson and Curtis Ward, who built their home, Old Plantation, where Blaisdell Center is today.
In recent history, the estate became a mostly industrial mix of property converted over the last few decades to more of a retail mix that crystallized in the early 1990s with stores such as Border's, Ross and Sports Authority. More recent additions included a 16-screen theater, Nordstrom Rack and Dave & Buster's.
PRIOR PLAN DERAILED
The previous owner of Ward Centers had pursued major retail redevelopment, including a 1997 plan for an 800,000-square-foot mall anchored by Saks Fifth Avenue and FAO Schwarz that was derailed in part by a pullout of Saks.
Six years ago, Victoria Ward Ltd. also floated an urban village master plan that included a two-block Main Street surrounded by a residential community that included four high-rises just 'ewa of Ward Avenue.
Part of that previous master plan involved replacing Ward Warehouse with a 550,000-square-foot mall anchored by a full-line Nordstrom department store that was derailed by the purchase of Ward Centers by General Growth, which arranged for Nordstrom to instead build a store at Ala Moana Center.
General Growth's new vision for Ward Centers is subject to approval by the Hawai'i Community Development Authority, which would hold a public hearing on the plan.
Under agency rules, a developer can build high-rises up to 400 feet in Kaka'ako mauka of Ala Moana if the developer produces 20 percent of residential units for sale or rent within a moderate price range, or if the developer pays a fee to the agency for construction of such units.
Reach Andrew Gomes at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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