Saturday, November 28, 2015         


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Kakaako towers need closer look


The state agency that decides on development of Kakaako has revealed competing plans for a 650-foot residential tower that would be by far Hawaii's tallest. Information that had been concealed were released last week to the public, an encouraging first step, but myriad more details will be needed in order for citizens to render informed support or concerns.

The plan for 690 Pohukaina St. is huge. The tower would be far taller than Hawaii's present highest — the 438-foot First Hawaiian Center building. The Hawaii Community Development Authority has the power to exempt projects from the city's 400-foot quasi building lid, and it has plans to allow development of numerous other structures between Restaurant Row and Ala Moana.

HCDA has scheduled a Nov. 20 hearing to receive testimony in response to competing plans by Ohio-based Forest City Enterprises Inc. and Australia-based Lend Lease, both with experience in Hawaii development. The public should note that the just-released proposals could change by Nov. 16, the deadline for the developers to submit their best-and-final offers. The agency's board is expected to choose a winning plan on Dec. 13.

Public access to the plans submitted by the two companies at this point is encouraging after HCDA indicated initially that they would not be accessible to the public until December or January. Now, conceptual designs can be viewed at — but important details such as the housing-affordability mix, justification for exceeding height limits and commercial-community space will be the critical factors beyond the futuristic visuals.

The concept behind 690 Pohukaina is supported by Gov. Neil Abercrombie, who has described it as "sustainable urban density." Four of his department directors and several of his community representatives are on the HCDA board.

In this case, the bidders are highly capable. Forest City, which has assets of $10.5 billion, built two of the 10 largest skyscrapers in New York City, including an 870-foot tower that is recognized as the tallest residential building in the Western Hemisphere. It is involved in Navy and Marine Corps housing construction on Oahu.

Lend Lease says it has constructed more than 450 residential buildings worth $16 billion in America, and is building military housing at Hickam Air Force Base and Aliamanu Military Reservation.

Forest City's initial three drawing options include one 650-foot tower and another consisting of a pair of towers rising up to 560 feet or 400 feet. The Lend Lease plan consists of two towers, one 650 feet high and the other reaching 400 feet.

HCDA says the tall buildings will result in significant affordable housing. About half the 1,002 units in the Lend Lease plan would be available to buyers with an upper end income of about $80,000 for singles or $114,240 for a family of four, with maximum sales prices of nearly $400,000 for one person and just over $550,000 for a family of four. Maximum monthly rental rates would be about $2,000 for a studio to $3,000 for a three-bedroom apartment.

All of Forest City's units would be rentals but few details have yet emerged.

The winning tower complex would be a major beginning of what the HCDA sees as 16 buildings in Kakaako 400 feet tall or more. The Pohukaina towers are to be completed by 2018 if market conditions are favorable. Testimony over the next two months will be extremely useful in determining whether the plans are as favorable to the public as they are to the Abercrombie administration.

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