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Friday, August 29, 2014         

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Strive to retain market's charm


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Waikiki's most wistful shopping venue faces a makeover under plans by Queen Emma Land Co., and the sentimental are certain to be wary over what that means.

The announcement that the renovation will keep the International Market Place "open air," with its huge banyan in place, should be of some relief, but the final product has yet to be determined.

The $250-300 million project, yet to be tailored into specifics, must be approved by the city for compliance with the Waikiki Special Design District, and an environmental impact statement needs to be prepared.

When it comes to the future of the 4.5 acres, public response will be candid.

Two decades ago, when the Waihee administration proposed replacing the nostalgic property with a state convention center, vendors squirmed and Ben Cayetano, then-lieutenant governor and later governor, angrily reacted.

"To replace the International Market Place with high concrete buildings would be like ripping the heart out of Waikiki." he said.

Such staunch sentiment is why Asia-Pacific dignitaries convened last week on the opposite side of the Ala Wai Canal, where the Hawai‘i Convention Center was eventually built.

For all the tallish hotels and condos surrounding it in Waikiki, the Market Place manages to retain its oasis ambiance, the outdoor market existing pretty much as it looked in 1956. That was when Ernest R.B. Gantt, aka Don the Beachcomber, founded the mall around the banyan that once held his tree house, alongside what is now the more pedestrian-traveled sidewalk in the state.

The site is part of the lands left by Queen Emma and managed by the Queen Emma Land Co. for support of the Queen's Medical Center and Molokai General Hospital.

It sought bids from developers to lease and redevelop the property in recent years, without result, before Taubman Centers Inc., a Michigan developer of malls across the country, agreed last year, along with real estate finance firm CoastWood Capitol Group LLC, to "explore development of a new, open-air shopping center" at the location and the adjacent Waikiki Town Center along Kuhio Avenue.

There's little doubt that the Market Place's valuable site in the heart of Waikiki could be better monetized, and that its shabby chic could stand a facelift. But tread wisely.

Even Stephen Kieras, Taubman's senior vice president of development, issued a careful statement that the companies "are still in the preliminary phases of determining the feasibility of redeveloping this iconic destination."

Like others of the 150 vendors, RK Jewelry Gift Shop owner Kantana Ouanesisouk remains pretty much in the dark.

"I don't know what I think because it's been too long — even the outcome you don't even know the kind of project they're going to do," he said.

The description of the project given by the developers says the famous banyan and several other large canopy trees will be preserved, which is a good sign.

A more comprehensive plan will certainly be carefully assessed by the public before construction begins as early as 2013 — and folks mindful that character is key to Waikiki's allure will surely be making their voices heard, again.






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