Property owner in Kalihi sees city rail line as an opportunity
By Andrew Gomes
August 8, 2016
COURTESY BLUE + GREEN INNOVATIONS
Artist’s renderings depict a two-stage plan to redevelop an old building occupied by a church in Kalihi into a residential and retail complex. An initial phase, making use of shipping containers, above, would be replaced with a more permanent phase. The transit-oriented development, or TOD, project capitalizes on two planned rail stations nearby.
COURTESY BLUE + GREEN INNOVATIONS
An initial phase, making use of shipping containers would be replaced with a more permanent phase, above. The transit-oriented development, or TOD, project capitalizes on two planned rail stations nearby.
Right now 2200 Kamehameha Highway in Kalihi isn’t very prime real estate. The property, occupied by a church, is across from Oahu Community Correctional Center. But in a few years it could be a different scene: residential housing and retail stores.
At least, that’s the vision of the Chinese national Jingbo Chang, who sees the city’s planned rail line as an opportunity to improve the site he bought in 2013.
Chang is among a handful of real estate investors in Honolulu aiming to produce early examples of transit-oriented development, or TOD, near stations on the rail line that is still several years away from being ready to run.
One element in Chang’s plan, however, is different. He intends to redevelop his property twice — first with an interim residential and retail project using stacked shipping containers, and then later with more permanent midrise and high-rise buildings.
“Rail is coming. TOD is the future,” said Gail Jennings, a transit-oriented development coordinator for commercial real estate firm Colliers International who is working with Chang.
Jennings, along with engineering firm SSFM International and architecture firm Blue + Green Innovations, produced conceptual plans for Chang, who she said isn’t afraid to be early with TOD.
“He is all about and all in for TOD,” Jennings said of Chang. “You have a lot of people sitting and saying, ‘I don’t want to be first.’”
Harrison Rue, TOD administrator for the city Department of Planning and Permitting, said several TOD projects are brewing mainly in the vicinity of Ala Moana Center, including the Kapiolani Residence condominium tower, which broke ground earlier this month. “That market seems strong,” he said.
In neighboring Kakaako, high-rises are being built without the impetus of the planned rail line. But in neighborhoods farther from Honolulu’s primary urban core — places such as Waipahu, Pearl City and Kalihi — replacing old buildings with taller and denser new residential and commercial projects is less of a hot pursuit.
A couple of projects in the works in these areas include Live Work Play Aiea, a multitower condo plan that also includes a hotel and retail, and a condo tower and rental apartment complex called Kokea Center across from Honolulu Community College in Kapalama.
Rue said the two-step plan by Chang is a good strategy. “We love it,” he said. “I think it’s a great example of a property owner being proactive.”
The site at 2200 Kamehameha contains a big and underused parking lot next to a warehouselike building that was built in 1955 for a bowling alley. In recent decades the building had been converted into offices largely for credit unions and now is leased to Hawaii China Mission Church.
Chang bought the 1.5 acre-site three years ago for $5.9 million, according to property records.
Jennings said Chang acquired the property for its TOD potential.
Under existing zoning, the height limit is 60 feet, and permitted uses are mainly industrial and commercial that don’t allow housing except for a property owner’s or caretaker’s accessory use. The city’s TOD zoning plan allows for a 150-foot height limit and a wider mix of use including residential.
As for Hawaii’s biggest jail next door, Jennings said she’s confident that state efforts to build a new facility elsewhere will come to fruition because it makes no sense to keep operating the obsolete and overcrowded facility.
“We are very confident that that is going to be moved,” she said.
Jennings presented the plan for the property at a recent conference organized by the International Council of Shopping Centers, and joked that if the city fails to build the entire planned rail line to Hawaii’s largest mall, Ala Moana Center, then 2200 Kamehameha would become even more of a prime location just beyond the Middle Street station that would become the end of the line.
The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation projects that an initial section of rail transit from Kapolei to Aloha Stadium will open in 2018. The rest of the line reaching Ala Moana is projected to open in late 2021.
A timetable for Chang’s project is uncertain. One challenge is having DPP enable permitting for stacked containers. But if that can be resolved, Jennings said the initial phase could take just six months to build.
The initial phase is conceived as new shipping containers stacked three high to create homes above ground-level retail as a relatively inexpensive and interim use.
A midrise and high-rise residential and retail complex would replace the container project. Jennings said this phase draws inspiration from some mainland TOD projects, including 1611 West Division, a rental apartment building in Chicago that contains no car parking, and Hassalo on Eighth, an apartment building in Portland, Ore., that has 1,000 bike stalls with valet and repair services.
“This is such an exciting time despite the seemingly endless drip of negativity about the rail,” Jennings said. “Well-done TOD can do many things, from creating housing that people can afford to providing economic opportunities.”
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