Embattled hotel and condo project near Ala Moana Center hits another major snag

Updated: Apr. 5, 2021 at 6:05 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A controversial plan to build a 400-foot tall condo and hotel project near Ala Moana Center is facing a major new obstacle.

In March 2018, the Honolulu City Council approved developer Johnson Fang’s Hawaii Ocean Plaza project as long as the builder obtained the necessary building permits within two years.

That deadline was extended another year, which ended last week with no further extensions.

“Now they have to go back to the drawing board,” said Tyler Dos Santos-Tam of HI Good Neighbor, which has been critical of the development.

“Losing this overall approval from the City Council makes it very very difficult for them to proceed.”

The Hawaii Ocean Plaza — whose plans call for 175 hotel rooms and 216 condos — is part of the city’s transit-oriented development program that allows developers to build more hotel and apartment units.

But because the TOD deal lapsed, Dos Santos-Tam said the developer has to go back to the City Council to get the zoning variances that he lost.

That could take months — if not years — and could cost millions of dollars in delays, he said.

Fang, however, said he’s still going ahead. He said he will only concentrate on building condos because of the pandemic’s impact on the tourism industry.

He said he also will provide loans for Hawaii buyers that will be interest-free for the first 10 years.

Fang, who heads Hawaii Investment Regional Center and California Investment Regional Center, is also the developer of the stalled Hawaii City Plaza project nearby.

Back in 2017, he threatened to organize a boycott of Hawaii tourism after permits on his Hawaii City Plaza project stalled in the City Council.

He also accused council members of forcing him to hire union labor, which he later agreed to do but apparently backed out.

In recent months, critics have expressed doubts about the viability of Fang’s project. The developer is also facing tremendous financial and legal pressures.

Dozens of Chinese and Japanese nationals who invested in the project have sued Fang and his companies over the delays, asking for their money back.

The developer’s landlord has also sued seeking more than $162,000 in past-due office rent.

“This is a situation where the city should take a pause and look at can it actually be carried out,” Dos Santos-Tam said.

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