June 08--The Howard Hughes Corp. executives, Gov. Neil Abercrombie and Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell broke ground Saturday morning on the first of two luxury high-rise residential towers in Kakaako with a small amount of retail space.
The public was not invited to the groundbreaking event for Waiea, the 36-story luxury residential tower which will spring up in the next 28 months at the former parking lot makai of Ward Centers' theater complex. It's the first of 22 condominium towers envisioned for development around Ward Centers.
Only 30 percent of the units remain available, according to data from Howard Hughes.
The project is among the initial steps in the redevelopment of Ward Village, a 60-acre master-planned community that includes a mix of residential and retail use by Dallas-based Howard Hughes, which owns Ward Centers.
Prices range from $1.5 million for a one-bedroom unit to $20 million for some penthouses and substantially more for a grand penthouse, which has its own pool but no set price.
Honolulu real estate investors Jack Tyrrell and his wife, May Lew, attended the groundbreaking and have purchased one unit and several units for friends.
"This is a great property," said Jack Tyrrell, who said the grand penthouse is going for just under $100 million.
May Lew Tyrrell, originally from Malaysia, said, "Right now we're really catching up with the international threshold in terms of the luxury condos, comparing ourselves to Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, Taipei and Tokyo. So right now we are in the international luxury corridor. And Hawaii is unique, with the aloha spirit, something you cannot find in Asia.
"We sold several units to friends because we believe in this Ward Village," she said.
She said its address, 1118 Ala Moana Blvd., is a good one, since "1118 is a good number in Cantonese. It means every day, every day, every day you are making money."
She also is a personal friend and admirer of the project's famed architect, James Cheng. Buildings he has designed are snapped up by buyers, she said.
Abercrombie hailed the Waiea project as a first: Never before have political, social and economic forces come together in a cooperative and collaborative effort this way, he said.
"Don't create a false nostalgia" for a "pre-Kakaako, pre-Magic Island" era when the area was merely swampland, the governor told a small group of invited guests for the groundbreaking ceremony.
Sales to local buyers have been very strong, Howard Hughes said Saturday, but it could not provide a number or percentage of total sales.
About 70 percent of the units in Waiea, located at the mauka-Ewa corner of Ala Moana Boulevard and Kamakee Street, have been sold as of May 1, the developer said.
Waiea, which means "water of life," will have 171 units, including one-, two- and three-bedroom residences, 10 townhomes, 10 penthouse units and the grand penthouse. About 5 percent or 10,000 square feet of the building is dedicated to retail space.
Howard Hughes launched public presales of the two condo towers on Feb. 1. As of May 1, the company received $55 million in buyer deposits, representing about $609 million of gross sales revenue assuming the buyers close on the units when completed, the corporation's first quarter 2014 highlights report shows.
The corporation has come under fire from several people who say it is packing too many units into a small lot at another of its projects, 404 Ward, which features a 400-foot moderately priced condo tower with 424 units.
The Hawaii Community Development Authority, which oversees the 600-acre Kakaako Community Development District, gave the developer approval despite its failure to meet a setback requirement because the lot was too small.
Howard Hughes is required to build 20 percent of the 4,300 residential units in its master plan for moderate-income residents, and the 404 Ward tower would satisfy half the requirement with 375 of its units.
Waiea will have a 50-foot setback from Ala Moana, and wider sidewalks will allow for walking.
Vancouver, Canada, architect Cheng collaborated with local architectural firm WCIT Architecture. Tony Ingrao is the project's interior designer and SWA Group is its landscape architect. The general contractor is Nordic PCL.
Construction of the Anaha tower, located at 1108 Auahi St. at the former Pier 1 Imports site, is scheduled to begin shortly. Its units start in the $400,000s.
Howard Hughes Chief Executive Officer David Weinreb thanked the governor, mayor and elected officials at the groundbreaking.
Caldwell said the project will bring Honolulu to the status of a world-class city.
He emphasized that he is proud of legislation he has introduced to keep development from the park space makai of Ala Moana from being developed, including Ala Moana Beach Park, Kakaako Waterfront Park and Kewalo Basin.
"We want to keep it open and free," he said.
John Frigillana, director of servicing for Union District Council 50, said 200 to 300 of its members who perform glasswork, flooring, painting and drywall work will get jobs with the Waiea project.
"It's going to be very beneficial to our members," he said.
Nick Vanderboom, vice president of development for Howard Hughes, said roughly 5,000 construction workers, all local, will be hired over the 28-month construction period.
Groups have rallied to protect makai land from residential development and expressed concern that public access may be affected.
"I don't think any development mauka of Ala Moana Boulevard is going to affect Ala Moana Beach Park," the mayor said. "If we do it right, it actually should enhance the beach park."
Howard Hughes is bidding to rejuvenate Kewalo Basin, Abercrombie noted.
"It'll be more accessible," he said. "More people living here to have access to the beaches, and there will be more access and availability than before."
Caldwell also praised a plan for the 3.44-acre Village Green, a green space ringed by cafes, running from where the Ross Dress for Less store is now on Ward Avenue to Kewalo Basin.
"I think it's important as we begin this new journey in Kakaako that we still remain connected to this place, and the people who walked these lands way before the rest of us showed up," he said.
"Today's ceremony is about a new future for our city. ... We may not be big as a Shanghai or Hong Kong or a Tokyo, but we have the same quality product," he said. "Today's groundbreaking is about building more of that first-rate, first-class product that puts us out there as a true capital city."
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