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Renovation plan for Waikiki site makes sense

LAST UPDATED: 6:27 p.m. HST, Aug 5, 2011

It's refreshing to see that it's still possible to conceive a Waikiki improvement that doesn't equate "better" with "bigger."

The latest example comes from Tony D.H. Ji, the longtime leasehold owner of the Royal Hawaiian Market Place, currently an aging colony of retail kiosks at the corner of Royal Hawaiian Avenue and Lauula Street. When its structures were newer, the market place might have suited an earlier era, when Hawaii tourists might have been drawn by its flea-market charm.

The proposal is to freshen that appeal for the market's more likely clientele. Across the avenue from the kiosks is Duty Free Shoppers, frequented by Japanese visitors who, as Ji points out, "are not interested in kiosks — they want higher quality."

And with all the outreach to new visitor markets in Korea and China, it's equally important to do what's possible to renew Hawaii's appeal with its critical core of Japanese tourists. That sector has suffered recently in the aftermath of the March earthquake-tsunami crisis but its central role in the overall tourism picture remains.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority strategic plan aims for a boost in the daily spending of an individual tourist from $188 in 2010 to $202 per person, per day in 2012. And at least in the conceptual drawings included in the project's environmental assessment filed last week, the reconstructed Royal Hawaiian Market Place would raise its revenue level with the proposed upscale shift.

But it also seems designed to accommodate many of the small businesses on the current vendor list, retaining the corner shop and a low-rise, open-air design coordinating it with the new structure. Sliding wood-framed glass doors providing a more secure environment and certainly a look of more permanence than the assortment of tarp-and-board enclosures. The tenants can avoid drawing down repeated violations as they do with the currently overcrowded shop spaces.

Finally, the two-story building would occupy a smaller footprint, leaving more space for landscaping and setback, said architect Lorena Yamamoto. According to the assessment, no significant environmental impacts are anticipated. The project is bound by Waikiki Special District design requirements but needs no other major permits.

Still, it's encouraging that the owner did not forgo outreach to the community, winning the unanimous support of the Waikiki Neighborhood Board, with further presentations set before the Waikiki Improvement Association.

At a time when there's been so much contentiousness surrounding large redevelopment projects in congested Waikiki, it's good to see this project proceeding on needed improvements with community buy-in.

Perhaps other developers should take notes.

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