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Sunday, November 23, 2014         

ABOUT TOWN: WARD CENTERS


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Ward changes brewing

Development plans under new owner Howard Hughes Corp. call for rebuilding and expanding

By Andrew Gomes

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In November a seismic shift took place in how the 60 acres underlying Ward Centers in Kakaako will be redeveloped, as ownership of the property and development plans transferred from the operator of nearby Ala Moana Center to Howard Hughes Corp.

Results from the shift have yet to be seen on the surface but are expected to emerge over the coming months and years in how the landscape is remade at Oahu's fourth-biggest shopping complex.

The big change, simply put, is that Ward Centers and Ala Moana are competitors again. This means the two biggest retail projects in Honolulu's urban core will vie for tenants, which was something that ceased after Ala Moana owner General Growth Properties bought Ward Centers in 2002 from local firm Victoria Ward Ltd.

Development plans for the Ward property call for rebuilding and expanding retail, along with adding numerous residential towers containing as many as 4,300 units.

But Hughes Corp. plans in the short term to concentrate on making improvements to existing retail operations.

The biggest priority, according to David Striph, a senior vice president leading operations and development at Ward Centers for Hughes Corp., is to finish Ward Village Shops, a retail addition that initially was to have been anchored by a flagship Whole Foods Market store and topped by a luxury rental apartment building.

THE APARTMENT building was deferred by General Growth, and the Whole Foods deal fell apart in late 2009 after construction delays tied to General Growth's bankruptcy led the natural and organic foods retailer to cancel a lease for what it envisioned would be its flagship Hawaii store.

All that exists of that phase of Ward Village Shops today is a 732-stall parking garage, which opened in June, and the shell of the former Whole Foods building.

Striph said the first priority will be to lease the empty Ward Village Shops retail space. Other short-term priorities will be to give Ward Centre and Ward Warehouse face lifts.

Farther out on the horizon, Hughes Corp. will develop a phasing plan for wholesale redevelopment of Ward Centers.

General Growth laid out a rough plan and obtained state approval to replace the collection of retail, warehouse and office buildings in the area bound by Ala Moana Boulevard, Queen Street, a cluster of blocks just Ewa of Ward Avenue and the IBM Building over the next two decades.

The General Growth plan dubbed Ward Neighborhood called for retail continuing to be a major presence with space for about 400 retail tenants, up from about 300 today. Other elements included residential units in as many as 20 mid- and high-rise towers, 5 acres of landscaped pedestrian plazas, 700,000 square feet of industrial space and a connection to the city's planned mass-transit station on part of the property.

General Growth anticipated starting redevelopment last year with a central pedestrian plaza replacing old warehouses and Ward Farmers Market, but the company's bankruptcy in 2009 in conjunction with the economic downturn put the plans on hold.

Hughes Corp. isn't projecting a new timetable for redevelopment. But Striph said the Dallas-based company is interested in the potential for the Ward property.

"The whole company is focused on this asset," he said. "It's truly one of our most exciting assets."

Striph said Hughes Corp. intends to come up with an "inspirational" plan for the property, and would like to better connect the neighborhood with the legacy of Victoria Ward, the daughter of an English shipbuilder and Hawaiian landowner, who once maintained a 100-acre estate, Old Plantation, where Blaisdell Center and Ward Centers are today.






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