Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Editorial | Our View

April 8, 2020

Updated 7:10 pm

The timing of this project is critical — with any luck at all, in a good way. The unveiling of a proposed public-private partnership to redevelop an underutilized Navy property coincides with a looming economic downturn that makes any project attractive.

The specific project, in what’s known as the “Little Makalapa” area adjacent to Joint Base Pearl Harbor- Hickam, has particular promise. It’s a proposed high-density, mixed-use complex surrounding the planned Pearl Harbor rail station in the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation system under construction.

If it works out, it could jumpstart some of the transit-oriented development that’s seen as a benefit of the fixed-rail project. It should complement neighboring rail-stop TOD sites, especially the Aloha Stadium station to the immediate west. Similarly, that is envisioned as an “entertainment district,” including a residential-retail mix.

“As developers you could say that project will be in competition with your development,” said Harrison Rue, the city’s TOD administrator, addressing prospective partners on the Navy project. “Some of the (Aloha Stadium) residential might be in competition, but symbiotically it will make for a really active area. That will be an attraction for development on your site.”

That’s exactly right. Both developments could be successful, if planned with regional market demands in mind.

Denise Emsley, Naval Facilities Engineering Command spokeswoman, said the Navy’s Acquisition Modernization Office had sent out a request for information to developers in February, and the responses are due on Friday. This was an invitation for broad development concepts involving the Navy’s roughly 70 acres at “Little Makalapa,” near Center Drive and Kamehameha Highway and encompassing the Pearl Harbor Naval Base HART station.

Emsley said developers are asked to address in their conceptual plans two aspects, in addition to any number of optional elements:

>> Accommodating the staff of the Federal Fire Department Offices, either on the site or relocated elsewhere.

>> Preserving aspects of the 1940s-era Navy housing site, also on the property, possibly repurposing the buildings within a historic park setting.

Everything else, Emsley said, is wide open.

The area is underused, and although it now includes the Naval Facilities Hawaii compound, that could be consolidated, either in a more compact building there or on the base proper, in such a way that leaves more of the area developable.

The command officials are envisioning various aspects, including an enhanced stop serving rail and bus commuters that brings in people, many of whom would be bound for the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, Hawaii’s largest industrial employer.

In December, amid concerns about military advances by China and Russia, the Navy announced plans for modernizing its forces and improving its maintenance times, goals it would advance with the development of a new dry dock production facility at the shipyard. Employment looks to be robust there, adding to the islands’ mounting housing demands that are not being met.

The idea of TOD has been to capitalize on the special zoning around the rail stations, enabling dense mixed-use development and boosting the necessary housing yield.

The development industry, like any other, is facing an uncertain future, given the work stoppages and shutdowns of the coronavirus pandemic. This project, like any other, is beset with uncertainties, as well.

But it also could provide needed jobs and fill some of the housing gap, which is a hopeful prospect. Hope has been in short supply lately, so it’s a bright spot on the horizon. The public awaits the ideas builders bring to the table.