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Partnership to improve Ala Wai harbor worth a try

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The state has been criticized for many years for the inadequate repair and maintenance of boat harbors. The logical remedy —other than drastically increasing fees for mooring — is public-private partnership in shoreline commercial activities, like the one planned at Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor.

Legislation to increase privatization of the state’s harbors would allow a planner to go forward with a four-story building with shops, restaurants and a wedding chapel and a separate two-story building with restaurants and another chapel at the harbor next to the bridge at Ala Moana Boulevard.

The plans by Honey Bee USA Inc. include a training center for the U.S. national kayak team and an upgrading of the dilapidated boat-repair facility.

Honey Bee is headed by Japanese developer Hideaki Shimakura, a competitive yacht racer who mainly constructs buildings in Japan. The Ala Wai project would be his first boat harbor facility and wedding chapels, which would be aimed at Japanese tourists.

Some residents living on boats in the harbor object to state legislation that would allow the $14 million project to go forward, fearing it would be an unwelcome intrusion in their backyards. However, the location is at the mauka end of the harbor.

The developer compares it to successful multi-use harbors at Marina Del Ray in Los Angeles and Newport Beach, Calif.

The state received rent of $9,250 a month from a boat-repair company before it went out of business and $3,000 from the operator of a fueling dock at the site.

Nobuaki Yoshino, who was vice president of the repair company, told legislators that Honey Bee USA, of which he now is vice president, is paying $15,000 a month after paying $150,000 for a development fee.

After the project is completed, he said, it will pay the state $47,000 a month and $86,000 a year for adjoining boat slips.

Honey Bee attorney Keith M. Kiuchi pointed out that the project would brighten the area, where the boat-repair building is falling apart and the fuel dock area "has been in need of major repairs for several years."

The plan, he said, is to turn "an eyesore" into "the home of an attractive development at the entrance to Waikiki."

The state Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation under the Department of Land and Natural Resources has been harshly criticized for failing to keep up with maintenance of harbors.

William J. Aila Jr., the land board’s chairman, said he expects the project to open "a new funding stream" and become "a stepping stone to self-sufficiency."

The project may be seen as a pilot project for public-private operations at other Hawaii harbors to generate more state revenue. If done right and well — with appropriate state and regulatory oversight — it could result in first-class settings without sharply raising boaters’ mooring fees.

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