The state’s decision to move forward on redevelopment of the Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor through a public-private partnership drew criticism tonight during a Waikiki Neighborhood Board meeting.
Ed Underwood, administrator of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation (DOBOR) said the agency intends to seek proposals for an 11-acre area with four parcels and two moles, including fast, submerged and reclaimed lands.
DOBOR received permission from the Board of Land and Natural Resources in April to issue a request for proposals (RFP) to redevelop four tracts of land at the Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor under a lease arrangement that could extend up to 65 years. Underwood said DOBOR plans to issue the RFP once the state Attorney General’s office approves the proposed language.
Underwood said the goal is to develop the harbor into a world-class marina that meets the needs of residents and visitors who use the ocean for a myriad of activities. He said developers would be expected to “learn from our past lessons” and incorporate elements collected by DTL Hawaii, an organization that DOBOR paid $99,885 to insert public input into the RFP process.
“The goal is to put out the request before the end of this year. This is one of the gateways of Waikiki. I’d like to see it beautified instead of just a dirt lot,” said Underwood, who is advocating that the harbor follow a similar model to Kewalo Basin, which is managed by the Howard Hughes Corp. as part of a long-term lease agreement with the state.
But several residents gathered at the Waikiki meeting expressed their distrust of the project and DOBOR’s process. Anxiety about the future of the public recreational area has been heightened since the state broadened the harbor’s redevelopment options through Act 197 and HRS 171-6(19), paving the way for a public-private partnership. It didn’t help that its first attempt at a partnership failed after Honey Bee USA went bankrupt in 2016, leaving a wake of creditors, including the state, which is still owed $500,000. Without more oversight, some Waikiki residents fear DOBOR’s second attempt at a public-private partnership at the Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor will end just as badly.
Waikiki Neighborhood Board Member Kathryn Henski, who has been part of Honolulu’s boater community since the 197os, garnered applause from the crowd when she said, “There are so many things wrong, you have no right to ask for a request for proposals until you clean up your act.”
Bruce Baxter, who has had a slip in the Ala Wai Harbor for 20 years and has lived there the past three, said “the problem is that you don’t maintain things.”
Les Parsons, who lives on his boat in Ala Wai harbor, said “It should be the premier harbor in Hawaii and it sucks, it just sucks.”
Underwood said he agreed, but that lack of revenue rather than mismanagement was the main cause of the harbor’s woes. That issue could be fixed by raising boater fees and through a public private partnership, he said.
“The harbors statewide have been underutilized. They have not kept up with inflation and it’s been such a battle to raise fees,” he said.
Underwood said he has recommended that Ala Wai harbor mooring fees be increased from the current $9 per linear foot to $13 per linear foot based on the berth rate. He also wants the state to consider the electricity rate, which has been set at a $5 flat-rate since 1994.
Waikiki Neighbor Board Member Jeff Merz, who is not a boater, encouraged the crowd to consider compromises.
“I don’t want to hear that the (Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor) is losing money because he (Underwood) can’t raise fees to a reasonable level,” Merz said. “I don’t own a boat so I don’t think that I should be subsidizing boaters. Give a little from your side.”