Recovery in Waikiki tourism is helping to fuel the neighborhood’s next development cycle and prompting some iconic Hawaii investors to consider bringing new business to the state’s visitor mecca.
"Developers, investors and businesses are talking about Waikiki again," said Kim Scoggins, a Colliers Monroe Friedlander Inc. vice president. "Over the next six to eight months, we’ll see quite a bit going on there."
Edward Bushor, co-founder of San Diego-headquartered eRealty Companies Inc., said he is mining Waikiki for opportunities. Bushor’s last project, the Waikiki Edition, opened in 2010; however, during earlier cycles he renovated the Airport Center and Dole Cannery and transformed the Ohana Waikiki Surf into the state’s first Wyland Waikiki.
Bushor said that he’s looking to reposition an off-Kalakaua Avenue shopping/entertainment center. He also is seeking the right location to relaunch the Wyland hotel brand, which went into hiatus in 2006 after he sold that property.
"I’m very positive about this market for the next five years," Bushor said.
On the retail side, Scoggins said that he’s hearing good things about the new 7-Eleven and Hard Rock Cafe, which recently opened on Beachwalk Avenue. He expects to see more repositioning there and further changes at the Royal Hawaiian Center, which just announced that "Legends in Concert," a celebrity impersonator show, will fill the 21,000-square-foot space left vacant when "Waikiki Nei" closed in 2008. Legends will debut Dec. 8 after the Royal Hawaiian’s 700-seat theater undergoes another multimillion-dollar renovation.
Scoggins said new retailers also are likely to turn up at the Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort and Spa and that there could be changes at the Waikiki Business Plaza and the Waikiki Shopping Plaza, where a four-story, 29,655-square-foot addition is soon to be unveiled.
Several hoteliers have announced multiyear redevelopment plans, a sign that they too are betting on Waikiki’s long-term strength, he said. Hilton Hawaiian Village just completed the top four floors at its Rainbow Tower, where a $45 million renovation is expected to be completed later this year. The company also is seeking approval to build two additional time-share towers and expand its super-pool, retail and restaurant offerings.
"(The project) will add a new vibrancy to the entrance of Waikiki, adding to the state’s tax base, creating long-term visitor-industry jobs and providing our beleaguered construction industry with hundreds of quality jobs," said Jerry Gibson, Hilton’s area vice president.
Kyo-ya, which recently completed an $85 million restoration at the Royal Hawaiian, a Luxury Collection Resort, plans to build a new 26-story tower where the eight-story Diamond Head Tower of its Westin Moana Surfrider now stands. Other construction would include a new Pikake Tower on the site of the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani and renovation of the existing Ainahau Tower. Two 11-story towers, the Princess and the Kaiulani, would be torn down.
"These Waikiki revitalization projects will infuse $1 billion into Oahu’s economy," said Ernest Nishizaki, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Kyo-ya Hotels & Resorts.
IF WAIKIKI’S tourism market remains strong and the soon-to-be opened Ross Dress for Less is a success on Seaside Avenue, Scoggins said businesses might seek opportunities on Waikiki’s outskirts.
"Waikiki is like a sponge," Scoggins said. "It fills from the core. Once that’s saturated, demand moves out."
Bushor said he’s been eying the Kuhio side of Waikiki since the hotel market turned the corner at the start of the year.
"The hotel market was going to be heaven in 2011 for Waikiki, then the Japanese catastrophe occurred," Bushor said. "My gut says we’ll be back by summer."
Randy Schoch, owner of Desert Island Restaurants, which operates five Ruth’s Chris Steak Houses in Hawaii, including one on Lewers Street in Waikiki, and Romano’s Macaroni Grill at Ala Moana, said his Hawaii restaurants and other well-run Waikiki businesses will continue to do well despite some visitor fall-off after the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami ravaged Japan in March.
Given his history as Honolulu’s poster boy for broken dreams and second chances, Schoch’s opinion matters. During the Japan downturn of the 1990s, Schoch lost millions and left Hawaii. He’s been back for some time, and he’s optimistic about Waikiki.
"It’s Waikiki’s golden age," Schoch said.
The $460 million Waikiki Beach Walk, which opened in 2007, made Waikiki an internationally competitive destination again, he said.
"Waikiki is becoming cosmopolitan again," he said. "It lost some of its cache in the ’80s and ’90s to Vegas and South Beach, but it’s coming back."
Schoch said he would consider bringing a Romano’s Macaroni Grill or a completely new restaurant concept to Waikiki if he found the right location.
Waikiki redevelopment needs to expand mauka, he said.
"Kuhio needs to be freshened up," Schoch said.