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Hawai'i Convention Center was a good idea after all

By Richard Borreca


2001 April 23 CTY Convention 02_Hawaii Convention Center, Ala Wai Canal side.Star-Bulletin photo by FL Morris.

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 rborreca@staradvertiser.com.

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1local wrote:
Should have put it near the Stadium or in Koolina. Less disruption to core business in Waikiki. Would have provided opportunity for the 2nd city...
on November 8,2011 | 06:43AM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
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.

In other words, it cost almost $4 million more in tax dollars than it brought in. This is the same accounting that tells us that APEC is a great deal since it generates $120 million in revenue but costs $137 million. And that's 2004 numbers - why does the Star-Ad not have more current data on revenue vs expenses? How can they possibly claim the Center is a "good idea" without a summary of costs and revenues since opening? I have heard it said the Center does not even cover the interest cost on its loans. But the most ridiculous part of this puff piece is asking one - one! - hotel guy what he thinks. Of course the hotels love the Center because it means they do not have to build white elephants on their own properties. Socialize the costs for the hotels but let them continue to get the room, food, drink and retail revenue.
on November 8,2011 | 07:34AM
Bdpapa wrote:
this is a much needed venue. Maybe 2nd city wouldʻve been better!
on November 8,2011 | 08:11AM
Hilofrank wrote:
Kind of like fixed rail?
on November 8,2011 | 09:42AM
mcc wrote:
It should have been built on Ala Wai Golf Course with a walking park and parking. When there are events there now, there is not enough parking. A park around the Convention Center where the golf course is, could be enjoyed by everyone, not just golfers.
on November 8,2011 | 10:55AM
postmanx wrote:
I want diplomatic immunity so I don't have to pay excise tax!
on November 8,2011 | 12:57PM
LemonySnickets wrote:
I feel Hawai'i will become another Hong Kong. The people of Hawai'i will end up living in "junks". "Homeless" tents that float. You can see the Old Hawai'i in the old reruns of Hawaii-50 versus the New. I did not see a convention center then. I saw coconut trees all over rather than be planted along Nimitz Highway recently for APEC. I still see the Pink Hotel but I also see more parking lots.
on November 8,2011 | 02:47PM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
Charge the hotels for any shortfall between revenues and operating costs. The hotels rake in the money from the visitors on conventions so this is a fair cost of business. They can afford it and it takes the burden off the taxpayer.
on November 8,2011 | 03:05PM
eros_et_logia wrote:
It was always a good idea. It's just a terrible building. Sure, it's beautiful, and pretty darn big. But what about the too-low ceilings? Why couldn't this building have made the Blaisdell obsolete? (And with that in mind why doesn't the Stan Sherriff make it obsolete anyway?) The building has no versatility. I'm not always for imminent domain land grabs, but couldn't they have extended the complex a block and built a stand-alone parking structure to accommodate other means?
on November 9,2011 | 12:34AM
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