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State building stands vacant

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    When or whether the eight-story Princess Victoria Kamamalu office building will reopen and the state's plans for the 53-year-old structure remain unclear.

When 315 state employees vacated the Princess Victoria Kamamalu building in November 2003, the eight-story building was supposed to be renovated and reopened within a few years.

Then in 2005 the state said the plan was to renovate the building for $12.6 million and refill it with state workers by 2007. In 2007, with the work still not done, the cost estimate was more than doubled to $27 million, and the reopening date was pushed back to 2010 or later.

Today the state is no longer answering questions about the boarded-up building that sits prominently next to Iolani Palace. When or if the 53-year-old office building will reopen and what the state’s plans are remain unclear.

As of yesterday, State Comptroller Russ Saito had not responded to questions submitted on July 21 concerning the building’s status.

Based on previously released information, the state could reduce its privately leased space costs by $771,000 a year if the building were fully reoccupied by state workers.

Still, because of the cost of renovating the building, such a reopening is unlikely any time soon.

A host of issues make such a renovation unlikely in the near term, said Mike Hamasu, director of consulting and research for local commercial real estate firm Collier Monroe Friedlander Inc.

Those factors include the state’s lack of money, a soft demand for office space and weak office rents, he said.

Through the first half of this year, a net 167,379 square feet of office space was vacated, according to Colliers Monroe Friedlander. That’s almost as much office space as was emptied during all of 2009 when a net 184,780 square feet was vacated.

The state bought the Kamamalu building at the corner of King and Richards streets from Hawaiian Trust Co. for $2.5 million in 1968. The current assessed value for the property at 250 S. King St. for tax purposes is $12.7 million.

The 50,626-square-foot building was previously occupied by the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, which relocated across King Street to the King Kalakaua Building in 2003. At the time, Saito told The Honolulu Advertiser that the Kamamalu building needed renovation because of safety issues, including "air conditioning, elevators, asbestos."

The building is not on the state’s register of historic places, but does occupy prime Capitol District real estate.

Among those that would like to see the building renovated and reopened is the Hawaii Capital Cultural Coalition, which is a partnership of businesses, public agencies and cultural groups focused on economic development and preserving the area’s heritage.

"Clearly, the Kamamalu Building is an important resource in this regard because it demonstrates how we can honor our history while using land and space in a way that supports economic growth and essential government functions," said Trisha Kehaulani Watson, community coordinator for the Hawaii Capital Cultural Coalition.

"Our hope would be that the state continue to work with all stakeholders and move forward with the renovations so that the public and private businesses can benefit from having this state building back in use."


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