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Mitch D'Olier

Balancing progress and tradition in Kailua's redevelopment

By Vicki Viotti

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 01:49 a.m. HST, Aug 27, 2010


Nestled in the cool Koolau foothills is the Kaneohe Ranch Management Ltd. office where Mitch D'Olier occupies one of the hottest hot seats in Kailua.

D'Olier's career, which started in law practice, has included executive posts with Hawaiian Airlines and then a decade in property management as president and chief executive officer of Victoria Ward Ltd.

Shortly after taking the same post for Kaneohe Ranch, he confronted the prospect of redeveloping land owned by the family trust and companies of Harold K. L Castle and Alice H. Castle. The 55-year leases on about 15 acres in downtown Kailua were about to end, auguring changes that many longtime Kailuans found unsettling. In recent years, the higher-profile cases included the demolition of low-cost rentals on Kailua Road to make way for the Ironwoods at Kailua apartments -- its sprawling property still vacant. That unleashed an outcry from displaced tenants. D'Olier said the property now belongs to developer D. R. Horton Inc., which is working to resolve financing delays.

But lately, the upheaval concerns a proposal for a Target store to take over the site now occupied by the Don Quijote store on Hahani Street, sparking worries about adding traffic and subtracting the Asian merchandise available now. It's a protest that's spawned a Facebook campaign and sign-waving efforts. D'Olier believes there is a majority who favor the changes, voices now being drowned out in the clamor.

QUESTION: What can you tell me about the history of the redevelopment?

ANSWER: I started at Kaneohe Ranch, I think, in 2002. And one of the things I saw when I was starting was about 15 acres in downtown Kailua that was coming off of a long-term lease in the next five or six years. What really drove the process of redevelopment ... is the termination of those long-term leases. We were going to have to make a decision on about a third of our property holdings in downtown Kailua. Because that was a significant part of downtown Kailua, because Kailua's a special place to everybody that lives here, and us, we wanted to get community input on what we were going to do. So we did a community planning and development process that lasted about 18 months. We started with a survey by Ward Research about what the aspirations of Kailua residents were.

Q: When was this?

A: In 2003. (We got) an interesting response. We got (replies) all over the place, because people in Kailua don't agree about everything, or maybe anything: If you want to go left, there will be somebody out there who wants to go right. That's part of the fun. And there were probably 50 to 100 people who didn't want anything to change, ever. And they were vocal and came to the meetings and said, "Don't change anything." And that was dramatically different than the 3,000 people that returned surveys and who did want change and want things to happen.

One of the big messages we got back from the survey was pedestrian community. There's been media coverage lately about "Kailua, the beach town." In 2002, nobody wanted to call it that. If I said this is a beach town, they would have said, "No, it's not a beach town, you don't understand it at all." I don't think they want people to know how cool it is at the beach. There are people who react negatively to it being called a beach town, is all I can tell you. They're out there. The 50 to 100 people that were "anti" any change at all and loved Kailua just exactly the way it was, were very surprised by the view of the 3,000 people because they thought movie theaters would be a good thing and there would be a bigger bookstore and some other kinds of things. But that's how we started the process, because after all, the real customers are Kailua residents.

Q: There are a lot of other chain stores now in Kailua. What was the threshold that Target crossed?

A: I'd love to know. All I can tell you is on my first day of work I had three or four Kailua residents, shopper ladies, saying to me, "While you are here managing this place, could you bring us a Target?" And if you were a pro-Target person, would you go to a meeting with 50 angry people and have them calling you names and stuff? That's the tricky thing about development. If you wanted to do affordable housing, I could announce an affordable housing project (and) 1,000 people could show up and say, "Don't do affordable housing." And the 300 people that need to live in the affordable housing place and would really like a place to live where they grew up, they don't show up at the hearing because they're working two jobs. Pro-development people generally don't show up at public meetings. That's just how it works, which is why I did the survey in the first place. So there's those two factions. I think there are two or three people that have very high levels of skill in social media that drive a significant amount of the "We would not like to have Target in Kailua" campaign.

Q: How potent do you think the traffic issue is?

A: I think it's a real issue. And I also think that if traffic were a real problem, Target won't come. Because would you want to open if nobody can get to you, or no people can get there to shop?

Q: The critique is Target will flood the town with people from all over.

A: I'll just tell you this: There's multiple views from different people. Target's not a visitor thing. Visitors to Oahu have Targets.

At least one of my thoughts about Target is it's a shopping convenience thing, because Kailua residents right now can't buy in Kailua kitchenware, can't buy office products, can't buy sporting goods, especially children's sporting goods, can't buy particularly kids' clothes because there's a limited selection in Kailua. So all of a sudden all the empty merchandise categories in Kailua get filled and people don't have to leave Kailua to get anything. It's going to save a lot of gas, but it's going to make Kailua a more successful place to shop.

One of the things people would like us to do is preserve a lot of the unique merchants that make Kailua, Kailua. Boots & Kimo's, Mary Z's, Manuhealii, Kalapawai Cafe ... small merchants. But do you know what small merchants need?

Q: Customers?

A: Yeah. And guess how you get customers? Big merchants pull for small merchants. My first piece is shopping convenience; my second piece is, you know, Target would be way worse for our small merchants if it went to Hawaii Kai or Kaneohe. Because people are going to go to Target. I mean, that's why the traffic concern. But assuming they can get in and out and you don't bring traffic to a grinding halt -- which I submit the city won't let happen anyway -- then this could be really good for small merchants. And that's what I really believe.

Q: I think the size of it is the big thing. It's bigger than the current store, right?

A: It's bigger but not dramatically bigger. It's 100,000 (square) feet of building on the site now, that'll go to 130,000 under the current plan, but that includes storage and warehouse.

When Target first came to Oahu, they met with (the late) Barbara Marshall, who was our then-Council person. Barbara at first told the Target guys, "You can't come to Kailua. I'm going to stop you." I said to Barbara, "Well, what about the Don Quijote site? And she said, "Well, that would be OK" -- because it's already developed.

Q: Don't people who are upset about Target also say, "Well I want my quirky Don Quijote things"?

A: Don't think that Asian products would disappear from Kailua if Don Quijote closed and didn't open in another site. First thing is, don't think Longs and Foodland won't fill that niche really quickly, and probably Times. I can tell you I know a little bit about them looking at those issues. The second piece of that is, I'd love to talk Don Quijote into opening a small Asian products store in Kailua.






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