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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, February 21, 2005

Navy's $84M development deal is changing the face of Pearl Harbor

By Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer

The Navy's unique $84 million development deal is changing the landscape around Pearl Harbor.

TOP: Homes on the north side of Iroquois Point, each of which received a $35,000 face-lift, should be ready for use in March. ABOVE: An artist's rendering of a Ford Island community that will have a World War II-era look and feel.

Photo, illustration courtesy of Ford Island Properties

Hundreds of renovated homes will soon be ready to rent at Iroquois Point, a "plantation-style" vision has been approved for a new Ford Island community, and a 5,000-square-foot tented visitors center stands near the USS Arizona Memorial, shading tourists and angering World War II veterans.

When finished over the next few years, the projects will affect thousands of people, including active-duty military personnel looking for housing, business owners looking for storage and tourists looking for a place to sit while waiting for the next memorial tour.

Work began in the summer of 2003 after the Navy leased or sold five underused properties in exchange for in-kind construction and infrastructure repairs on Ford Island. The deal with Hunt Building Co. and Fluor Federal Services LLC — a joint venture now operating as Ford Island Properties — was unprecedented and made possible through special legislation passed by Congress in 1999.

The Navy gave the developers 65-year leases at Iroquois Point and Pu'uloa, a 34-acre parcel on Ford Island and the 6.6-acre Halawa Landing. The developers also were allowed to purchase 695 acres of housing at Kalaeloa after three years and were given outright ownership of the 515-acre former Waikele Naval Magazine.

So far, the Navy is happy with the pace of work both on and off Ford Island, saying some of it is ahead of schedule. Without a deal like this, the Navy would never have been able to finance the kind of renovations being done, said Joe Calcara, a realty officer with the Naval Facilities Command at Pearl Harbor.

"In some ways, this is saving Ford Island," he said. "It is giving it life. It is giving it what we needed."

Huge face-lift

The biggest transformation so far has been at Iroquois Point, where the developers have had to improve property that the Navy neglected for years, said Steve Colon, senior vice president at Hunt Building Co.

Fewer than half of the 1,463 homes on the point are finished and the work has cost about $20 million, Colon said. The first homes, all on the north side of Iroquois Point, should be ready for use next month. Another $5 million worth of work on the south side and at Pu'uloa is in the early stages because many of the homes are occupied, he said.

Beyond that, several million dollars also will be invested for amenities, such as a community center, but the budgets have not yet been set, Colon said.

Built in the 1960s, the homes on the north side were empty when the renovation began in August 2003, with more than 100 tradesmen working on a daily basis. Workers went block by block.

The tented Pearl Harbor Visitors Center has drawn anger from some officials and veterans, who say that a for-profit business is incompatible with the memorial's nonprofit operations.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

"Each home got a $35,000 face-lift," Colon said. "It was a huge, huge undertaking."

New paint inside and out, trellised entries, renovated kitchens and bathrooms, ceiling fans, storage and fencing were included.

Their best feature follows the time-honored real-estate maxim — location. Most of the homes are surrounded by large yards and common areas that have been re-landscaped with automatic sprinkler systems.

Nearly $200,000 was spent to remove overgrown mangrove, revealing the marina to other parts of the community, Colon said.

Although it is next to an active military base, the homes will be open to civilians. A guard is posted at the entrance to Iroquois Point, Colon said.

Another 548 homes at Kalaeloa also have been spruced up, but they were newer and required much less work, Colon said. About $5 million went into painting, roofs, shutters and fencing.

Plantation living

The Ford Island parcel will be used for a pair of 16-acre communities that will have the look and feel of World War II Hawai'i.

"The whole idea was to do plantation-style living on Ford Island, something that fits into the character and setting of Ford Island," Colon said. "It will respect the area."

So far, the Navy has only approved the design concept and architects are now drawing floor plans for a three-story, 300-apartment community on the harbor and 130, two-story townhomes. The Navy must also approve that. Construction could begin in May 2006, Colon said.

Probably the most interesting property involved is at the bottom of Kipapa Gulch, where the former Waikele Naval Magazine once held 56,000 tons of explosives in 128 concrete bunkers. Ford Island Properties is in the process of converting them into 512,000 square feet of inexpensive self-storage for small businesses.

Colon said the woodsy, 515-acre area at the bottom of the gulch, complete with an overgrown road, reminds him of the dinosaur-laden island in "Jurassic Park." Storage is a perfect solution, he said because it is "visually non-obtrusive."

Ford Island Properties signed a three-year lease this month with Hawaiian Island Development Co. to begin use of the bunkers, which had been vacant since the late 1990s.

Veterans upset

Not everything arranged by Ford Island Properties has been greeted with enthusiasm.

Visitors to the Arizona Memorial relax under a tent used for a retail operation. The idea was to accommodate the thousands of visitors who have to wait as long as two hours for tours, while providing an alternative to the memorial's overburdened visitors center.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

At the Halawa Landing — a slab of asphalt and weeds wedged between the manicured grounds of the Arizona Memorial Visitors Center and the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park — the Navy lease allowed the developers to set up a retail operation.

When the developer brought in Patrick Brent — a Hawai'i entrepreneur — and his Pearl Harbor Visitors Center, officials at the neighboring attractions and the veterans who volunteer with them grew so angry that a congressman stepped in to cool things down.

Brent put up a huge white tent, hired vendors to sell food and beverages, brought in portable bathrooms and provided shaded seating.

The idea was to accommodate the many thousands of visitors to the Arizona Memorial who are forced to wait as long as two hours for their tour. The memorial's visitor center is overburdened — the lines to bathrooms there are the stuff of legend — and the National Park Service would like to expand its facilities.

Brent said he transformed "a filthy parking lot with broken glass and a high crime rate" into a respite for visitors.

"Every time we put out a chair, someone sits down," Brent said.

But aging survivors of the attack on Pearl Harbor have frequently complained to Brent about his for-profit organization. One veteran told him that the sailors entombed in the USS Arizona are crying because he is selling cola, Brent said.

"They attack us because of the respect thing," Brent said. "There is no one in this neighborhood more respectful than myself and my people."

Ray Emory, an 83-year-old survivor of the attack on Pearl Harbor who calls the tented center "a money-making scheme," said veterans do not believe that a business is compatible with nonprofit organizations.

"Mainly, people say it is totally out of place," Emory said. "This is a profit-making organization and they are taking business away from both the nonprofit organizations, the Bowfin and the Arizona Memorial bookstore."

Tent just temporary

Brent said that doubters who visit his operation often change their mind about what he is doing, but a permanent structure may help that cause.

The tent will ultimately be replaced by a 10,000- to 12,000-square-foot building that will house the vendors, Brent said. Final plans won't be settled on for at least six months, but the visitors center hopes to employ a 1942-era theme.

Relations with the neighboring attractions have improved in recent weeks, in part because the Navy made it clear that Brent's operation was meeting the terms of the lease.

Doug Lentz, superintendent of the USS Arizona Memorial, said he has no opinion on Brent's operation, "good or bad."

"Everybody has different perceptions," Lentz said. "Right now I have an open mind."

U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawai'i, has been trying to get the parties involved to find a way to create a single visitors center.

"The Arizona Memorial Visitors Center is stuck on land that is unsuitable for what it is doing now," he said. "It is sinking. There is no parking. People sit and wait in the sun. I said, 'Why don't you guys come together and put something comprehensive together that will embody the legacy of the Arizona Memorial?' "

Abercrombie said they listened.

"That seemed to make sense to them," he said.

But even if they reject it, change is coming, guaranteed by a 65-year lease.

"For some people, things of this nature are an emotional issue," Calcara said. "From our perspective, the developer is in compliance with the lease."

Reach Mike Gordon at mgordon@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8012.