Final offers presented for Kakaako supertower

Reported by: Gina Mangieri

Developers competing to build supertowers on state land in Kakaako differ on whether they plan to rent or sell the units at a project originally intended to create workforce housing.

The bidders for the 690 Pohukaina project presented their final offers today, though much of the public testimony cautioned about opening the doors to building what could dwarf Honolulu's tallest structures by 50 percent.

Since putting out its request for proposals earlier this year, the Hawaii Community Development Authority got two final bids to turn state land in Kakaako into possibly the tallest living complex Hawaii has ever seen -- up to 650 feet instead of the current 400-foot height limit.

"It's hard, development is difficult," said Jon Wallenstrom of Forest City, "so if you're going to do that much work, we would prefer not to sell it, we'll keep it, we'll operate it, we'll rent it.

"That's Forest City's plan, a single-tower structure with just under half the units at "rent-restricted" or affordable-unit rates starting around $1,700 a month, the rest at market rate.

"For the top floors we have about 24 units that are going to be luxury penthouses,” Wallenstrom said. “Still workforce, but it's a different workforce.

"The other bidder, Lend Lease, has a two-tower plan and would sell the units.

"The market study told us there was no market demand for rental units above the 140 percent of the area median income," said Richard Hawes of Lend Lease.

Their units would sell for about $286,000 for a one bedroom one bath, on up to the largest units at three bedrooms two baths, and no luxury units.

Both projects would cost about a half-billion dollars to build. Both would employ hundreds in construction.

The final height limit relies on approval of what's called a transit oriented development overlay in HCDA rules, geared toward allowing higher density in the urban core.

"What you are trying to do is commendable," said Rev. Bob Nakata of FACE – Faith Action for Community Equity – in public testimony.

"Something like this will help to justify moving ahead with the rail system.

"But other public testimony warned against going taller.

"A structure like this will affect Kakaako, whether it's traffic, strain on infrastructure,” said area business owner Dexter Okada.

"The past tells us that such exemptions soon become the norm," testified Duane Preble, UH professor emeritus.

"These new supertowers would be an intrusion on the beauty of our city," said Bob Loy of the Outdoor Circle, "that must be stopped."

The HCDA is holding two open houses on the project in the coming weeks ahead of the December 13 final vote to choose the winner. The open houses are Thurs. Nov. 29, 3-7p.m. and Sat. Dec. 1, 9am-1pm, at HCDA offices 461 Cooke Street.

This story was originally reported on KHON2 on November 20, 2012; video and text are available here: