Union disputes hotel redevelopment plan
By Andrew Gomes
Advertiser Staff Writer
A local hotel worker union has filed a lawsuit challenging the adequacy of an environmental impact statement prepared for the proposed $700 million redevelopment of the Princess Kaiulani and Moana Surfrider hotels in Waikīkī.
UNITE HERE Local 5 filed the suit in Circuit Court yesterday against property owner Kyo-ya Hotels & Resorts and the city, alleging that the EIS presents misleading information as to how many people the hotels will employ after redevelopment.
Kyo-ya, in the EIS, projects that more workers will be needed, and the job increases are touted as one reason why the project should be approved.
But the EIS also says that the number of hotel rooms, condominium-hotel units and residential condo units in the plan could change — and the union said that could result in fewer jobs.
"The public benefit of assumed jobs is wholly illusory," the suit said.
Local 5 is asking that Kyo-ya amend the EIS. The union also questions whether the city Department of Planning and Permitting should hold a hearing scheduled for June 1 to consider granting a special management permit for the Moana work.
Kyo-ya issued a statement in response to the suit, but did not address any specific allegations, saying it had not had a chance to carefully review the complaint.
"The redevelopment will enable us to reposition our hotels for our guests and to create long-term work opportunities," Ernest Nishizaki, Kyo-ya's chief operating officer, said in the statement. "We value all of our associates and have and will continue to work with the leadership of Local 5 toward our mutual goal of continued and better employment opportunities for our associates."
The redevelopment project calls for replacing an eight-story beachfront hotel wing at the Moana with a 26-story tower. At the Kaiulani, two hotel buildings would be replaced by one larger tower. A third tower would be renovated.
Kyo-ya has previously said that construction could begin in 2012 if approvals are granted without delay.
The company filed its final EIS in March. In the document, Kyo-ya said it expects the number of employees at the two hotels to increase from 878 to 1,287, for a total of 409 new workers.
But Local 5 officials question the projection because Kyo-ya in the EIS reserves a right to change the number of hotel rooms in its plan.
As stated in the EIS, the hotel room count at the Moana would rise from 814 to 898. Forty residences also would be added. The changes, Kyo-ya said, would boost jobs by 114.
The Kaiulani's hotel room count would be reduced from 1,140 to 937.
Out of those 937 rooms, 210 would become condo-hotel units and sold to individual investors. There also would be 61 residences added, while retail and restaurant space would be enlarged from 36,386 square feet to 83,000 square feet. Those changes would add 295 jobs, Kyo-ya said.
Between the two properties, the total number of hotel rooms would decline by 119, from 1,954 to 1,835. Kyo-ya has said that it expects it will need hotel employees because it is upgrading many rooms to a luxury standard that will require better service and more workers.
However, Kyo-ya says in the EIS that the precise mix of units may be modified based on demand at the time of construction. The potential for reducing the number of hotel rooms, and increasing the number of residential units and/or condotel units that typically require less service, is what concerns the union.
"They could totally eliminate hotel rooms (in the new towers) under this," said Gregory Kugle, an attorney representing the union. "That's what the problem is."
Ilia Patlidzanov, a waiter at the Kaiulani for 21 years, said the union isn't against the redevelopment project. "We need redevelopment," he said. His concern is that the number of condos in the redevelopment plan could increase to the point where fewer employees are needed. "We're hotel workers, we need hotel rooms."
Godfrey Maeshiro, a bell captain at the Kaiulani for 44 years, said Kyo-ya has been unwilling to make a binding commitment to employees that their jobs will be waiting for them when the redevelopment project is finished.
"We have to protect jobs," he said. "We want the owners to commit."