Sunday, November 29, 2015         


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Hawai'i Convention Center was a good idea after all

By Richard Borreca


It is the one symbol of Hawaii that hardly anyone in Honolulu knows. You drive by it and two questions pop into your head:

Does anybody ever go there? Isn't that the Australian airport in "Lost"?

The Hawai‘i Convention Center, much criticized and mostly unknown to folks in Honolulu, is also one of the fundamental reasons that the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit is in Honolulu.

Asked about the necessity of having something like the convention center for APEC, Keith Vieira, Starwood Hotels and Resorts senior vice president, called it "absolutely necessary."

"We would also lose a lot of groups who use the HCC for their meetings, as many hotels do not have enough meeting space," Vieira said.

Although Vieira added that he thought the center could change its marketing, the center is a major part of the reason something as big as APEC can be held here.

For a state government project in 1997, it was remarkable for coming in both on time and under its $200 million budget.

Before it was built, the controversy was about where to put it. Protesting vendors at Waikiki's International Market Place didn't want it there and U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye objected to considering Fort DeRussy.

When it opened, the center was widely praised as a beautiful open structure with a "Hawaiian sense of place," which is a remarkable accomplishment for an area that was once a car lot.

In a 2003 study, the Hawai‘i Convention Center was named "the most attractive convention center in North America" by Gerard Murphy Associates, a market research group.

There has been considerable debate about Hawaii as a convention destination. We are perhaps in the middle of what will be Hawaii's biggest test to do it right.

APEC is bringing a huge international spotlight to Honolulu. Besides the international delegations — China comes with a group of 1,000, Russia has a 300-person delegation — the news media are also watching. Officials say at least 1,500 members of the news media from more than 20 countries will be writing, filming and tweeting the event.

The convention center was never envisioned as a profit-making center.

<t-5>In 2004, the Hawaii Tourism Authority, which is in charge of the convention center, reported that the center made $7.5 million but cost $11.2 million to operate.

Economists put the average convention spending at $283 per person, per day. It may be a bit more difficult to figure out who is paying how much, because many traveling with diplomatic immunity don't pay hotel room or general excise taxes.

But money spent is going toward keeping the local economy churning.

In fact, political leaders such as House Speaker Calvin Say are already predicting that APEC will be enough of an economic boost to give us a nice close-of-the-year budget balance.

When business in Hawaii grumbles that government doesn't do enough for it, perhaps it should consider some of the things that government does do and does well.


Richard Borreca writes on politics on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Reach him at

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