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$1 million overhaul aims to clean up Waikiki marketplace

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CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / crussell@staradvertiser.com

Royal Hawaiian Market Place owner Tony D.H. Ji is planning to overhaul the property with a nearly $1 million project that will include a 6,000-square-foot, two-story building. He said he will retain most of the current tenants.

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CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / crussell@staradvertiser.com

@Caption1:Project designer Lorena Yamamoto said the redesign will seek to maintain the open feeling of a marketplace while also providing more security for each vendor. Sliding glass doors will keep the kiosks open to Waikiki visitors during the day and enhance security for merchants' wares at night.

The longtime leasehold owner of the Royal Hawaiian Market Place has plans to replace the property’s hodgepodge of tired retail and restaurant kiosks with a nearly 6,000-square-foot, two-story building.

"This is my 20-year dream," said Tony D.H. Ji, owner of the Royal Hawaiian Market Place. "I will make this place very clean for Waikiki."

The timing of the nearly $1 million project coincides with the need to refresh aging infrastructure and an aging concept, Ji said.

"About 80 percent of the customers at the Royal Hawaiian Market Place are Japanese because it is near Duty Free Shopping," Ji said. "Right now most Japanese customers are not interested in kiosks; they want higher quality. That’s why Duke’s Lane and International Market Place are all slow now, too. Maybe after renovation, customers will feel more comfortable to come to my shop."

Various vendor stations on the 7,200-square-foot plot owned by Lionking II LLC were altered during the late 1980s and early 1990s; however, no overall improvement, renovation or alteration is on record with the city, said project designer Lorena Yamamoto.

While maintaining the existing mix of various retail and food businesses, the proposed Royal Hawaiian Market Place will provide a more cohesive and integrated street frontage along Royal Hawaiian Avenue and Lauula Street, Yamamoto said.

"The new two-story structure will enhance the pedestrian experience with greater yard area, increased landscaping and unique indoor/outdoor experiences at the upper-level dining deck," she said.

There will be 3,870 square feet of retail and restaurant space on the ground level of the new marketplace, and there will be 1,817 square feet of restaurant space upstairs, Yamamoto said.

The redesign strives to maintain the open-air feeling of a marketplace, she said. Sliding wood-framed glass doors will keep stores open to the streetscape during the day and make it easier for merchants to secure their wares at night.

"Currently they use boards and tarps to secure them, but it looks very temporary and sort of messy right now," Yamamoto said.

The redesign also will make businesses at the marketplace more compliant with city regulations, she said.

"The current kiosks have been receiving multiple violations from the city because there is not enough aisle width between the kiosks. They are pretty crammed together," Yamamoto said.

The permanent wooden pink kiosk, which houses the outdoor food stand Sam’s Kitchen and a money exchange, will remain, Ji said.

He plans to bring back most of the current tenants, including Yasushi Harada and Tadato Yoshida, who run a takoyaki kiosk. Takoyaki, or fried balls made of flour seasoning and octopus, are popular with Japanese visitors, Ji said.

Harada and Yoshida plan to open an indoor/outdoor Japanese restaurant, Ambassador, in the new structure.

"We feel it will get more customers," Harada said.

In addition to a full-service Japanese restaurant, Ji’s plans also call for a beer garden.

The plan, which got unanimous approval from the Waikiki Neighborhood Board earlier this week, will still need to be vetted by the Waikiki Improvement Association and the city.

"We appreciate the applicants for letting us review this project upfront," said Jeff Merz, Waikiki Neighborhood Board member. "It’s inviting and warm."

Ji hopes to have permits in place in the next four to five months. He plans to begin construction on the project by January and is targeting June 1 as his reopening date.

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