The new majority owner of Ala Moana Center wants to take the state’s largest shopping mall to a higher level.
Like 40 stories high for future residential and commercial additions to the 50-acre property.
Brookfield Property Partners, a Canada-based real estate investment and development firm that acquired the mall’s majority owner last year, plans to ask the Honolulu City Council to increase height and density limits for the property under transit-oriented-development, or TOD, rules.
Current zoning allows buildings at the mall up to 100 feet, or about 10 stories.
The city’s draft TOD plan for the area, which was completed three years ago but hasn’t been adopted yet by the Council, allows a bonus height limit to 150 feet for most of the mall and 350 feet for a strip along its mauka edge and its Diamond Head corner parking area outside Macy’s.
Brookfield seeks a 400-foot maximum TOD bonus building height for the entire mall site, and intends to ask the Council to amend the TOD plan to include this bonus, which can be granted for individual projects in return for community benefits such as affordable housing, public plazas and other things.
A Brookfield executive described the plan at an Ala Moana-Kakaako Neighborhood Board meeting Tuesday night, and received critical reactions from some board members who raised concerns about view planes and other impacts.
Kris Hui, mixed-use development vice president for Brookfield, told the board that the company seeks “zoning parity” with land abutting Kapiolani Boulevard where the draft TOD plan offers a 400-foot height bonus.
“We want this (change) to match the rest of the neighborhood,” he said.
In addition to increased height, Brookfield wants the ability to make new buildings much more dense.
Under current zoning, building floor area on the mall site can be 2.5 times the lot area. This equates to about 5.4 million square feet of floor area. Retail space at the mall totals 2.4 million square feet. There are also a couple of office buildings and two residential condominiums on the property.
Brookfield wants to increase the 2.5 floor area ratio to 7, which would allow 15.2 million square feet of building floor area.
TOD height and density bonuses are intended to foster real estate development — including housing, hotels and retail — that clusters more people within close walking distance of rail stations to help elevate ridership and reduce dependency on cars.
A planned station adjacent to Ala Moana Center on Kona Street is slated to be the last and most heavily used stop in the 20-mile city rail line projected for completion in 2025.
Hui noted that obtaining the height and density bonus doesn’t automatically allow the mall to build 400-foot towers because the Council decides whether a bonus is granted for individual projects based on public benefit contributions.
“This does not grant the mall any rights,” he said.
The council has approved several tower projects where developers have sought to build to bonus heights and densities.
Neighborhood board member Jayne Cloutier questioned whether the shopping center could one day become a monolithic 400-foot-high structure.
“Are you trying to build a whole wall going up?” she asked.
Hui said that’s not envisioned because the mall is incredibly valuable and does very well, attracting about 52 million annual visits, or more than Disneyland.
“No one is trying to change that,” he said about the mall’s existence.
But Hui also said concentrating so much development density on blocks near Ala Moana Center could have a negative effect on the mall if Brookfield can’t build higher and more dense buildings.
“The mall may not survive in the right way,” he said.
Hui said one byproduct of the current height limit has been production of ultra-luxury condominiums on the property that include ONE Ala Moana and Park Lane developed under deals with the mall’s previous owner, Chicago-based General Growth Properties.
“Only ultra-luxury projects would work in this current scenario,” he said, adding that a 400-foot limit would allow Brookfield to incorporate affordable housing into potential future projects.
Hui shared plans for an initial tower on the mauka-Ewa corner of the mall property referred to as Ala Moana Plaza where several retailers including Nijiya Market occupy a complex adjacent to the mall at Piikoi and Kona streets.
This proposed tower would feature rental apartments with some restricted for 30 years at affordable rates to local households with lower moderate incomes.
Board member Bryan Mick said he’d be comfortable with a 400-foot bonus height for this site but not mall areas closer to the ocean.
“I would be uncomfortable with the request to go up to 400 feet (for the whole mall site),” he said.
Hui said that aside from the apartment tower, Brookfield has no projects planned at Ala Moana, though future additions could include residential, hotel, office and medical service projects.
Public benefits that Hui said Brookfield could offer include making the Ala Moana rail station better, facilitating potential future rail extensions to the University of Hawaii and Waikiki, affordable housing and public recreation space.
City Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi, who represents the Ala Moana area, said Wednesday that she looks forward to discussing Brookfield’s proposal, especially because aspects of the rail project including whether a station will end up on Kona Street and how the route can be extended to the University of Hawaii are clouded.
“That’s a conversation I would like to have,” she said. “I look forward to the discussion on a complete plan.”