Honolulu’s Kakaako needs major work at the street level, experts say

Eugene Price, left, owner of PD Technologies, and employee Darren DeMello install vinyl artwork on the side of a building in Kakaako.

Eugene Price, left, owner of PD Technologies, and employee Darren DeMello install vinyl artwork on the side of a building in Kakaako.

Better coordination between landowners, developing a business improvement district and subsidizing retailers were some of the ideas tossed around at a town hall meeting in Downtown Honolulu that focused on the pedestrian experience in the growing Honolulu neighborhood of Kakaako.

While much of the talk of Kakaako has been about those tall skyscrapers being built in the area, the subject of the American Institute of Architects Honolulu Chapter’s event Tuesday night focused on what’s below those buildings.

“We need better coordination to avoid patchwork,” said Ralph Portmore, president of Aiea-based PPDS LLC, a planning consulting firm and one of the event’s panelists. “We need to focus more on the how [we get there] and not the what [we can do]. We have an opportunity with Auahi Street to deal with the how, because we have two landowners, The Howard Hughes Corp. and Kamehameha Schools. We need to lock into something.”

He also noted that Kakaako needs a business improvement district, something that pulls together all the stakeholders, including the city and the state.

“Through collaboration, you get more synergy,” said Portmore, who also pointed out that retail is important to the area.

“We need more mom and pop shops, the little places you and I can go to,” he said. “But can they afford the rent? We have reserved housing, but what about reserved rent [for retailers]. Rents need to be lowered in Kakaako. It’s going to take a while to get critical mass there, so you have to populate it with storefronts.”

Andrew Tang, founder and leading designer of Honolulu’s TANGLOBE Design, Architecture & Urbanism and one of the panelists, said that stakeholders can provide a lot of green space, but it’s all about placement.

“We need the ingredients,” he said, referring to three P’s, which include people, profit and planet. “We also need diversity proximity and flexibility [at the street level]. You do see this in Chinatown. A lot of our more successful public spaces are our businesses, managed by private entities, including Bishop Square [in Downtown Honolulu].”

To help give context to the discussion, a three-dimensional model of Kakaako at the scale of 64 feet to the inch has returned for display at the center.

The model was prepared by graduate students at the University of Hawaii School of Architecture to show both existing buildings and the 29 projects proposed in the master plans of The Howard Hughes Corp. and Kamehameha Schools, scheduled for construction during the next 10 years.

Duane Shimogawa Reporter – Pacific Business News

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