Plans move forward for $100M renovation of ‘antiquated’ Honolulu Hale

Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi is proposing relocating city government to a high rise to make room for a $100 million renovation of Honolulu Hale.
Published: Nov. 11, 2022 at 4:33 PM HST|Updated: Nov. 11, 2022 at 6:48 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi is proposing relocating city government to a high rise to make room for a $100 million renovation of Honolulu Hale.

Blangiardi says he’s committed to the project even though there are still many unknowns about what may be behind the thick walls of the massive building.

“Preserving it for let’s say the next 100 years for me is a real romantic notion,” Blangiardi told Hawaii News Now in an exclusive interview. “It’s a real contribution to the city.”

With its California Spanish architecture and courtyard modeled after a palace in Florence, Italy, the 93-year-old building remains gracious but shows its age and the scars from efforts to keep up with the times and keep the seat of Honolulu government safe, functional and comfortable.

“It needs a lot,” Blangiardi said. “I think band-aids have been applied over the years, over the decades, and we have run into a point in time where we cannot band-aid any more.”

Honolulu Council Member Calvin Say said the building’s maintenance is an increasing burden on taxpayers.

“The plumbing is antiquated, the air conditioning is antiquated, everything you see here is antiquated, and it has cost the general taxpayers a lot money in the operation and maintenance,” Say said.

Say said modernization would end that waste — as well as savings from new energy efficient systems.

As an example, the mayor showed Hawaii News Now a tiny utility space behind curtains in his office.

There an AC unit and exposed foil vent stand next to a caulked up window — clearly unable to prevent leaking air.

His bathroom looks unchanged from the 1950s.

Many fixtures in the building can’t be removed safely because they are attached to or covering hazardous materials like lead paint and asbestos.

“I’m excited if we can pull it off,” Say said. “Two years ago, when I came on board, there was horror stories about people having cancer, people having asbestos problems, etc.”

Say said councilmembers have been told they can’t even install new carpets because of what may become airborne when the old carpets are removed.

The renovation plan has been in the works for years. Planning began with a contract for facility assessment in 2018, and about 25% of the project has been designed.

Managing Director Mike Formby said an ambitious timetable would mean final designs could be ready in 2025, with construction underway a year later.

Doing everything in one phase could take five and a half years with the costs estimated conservatively at $100 million.

Say points out that while the ongoing repairs are being paid out of the city’s operating budget — which takes money away from other programs, while renovation could be financed with bonds — and paid off over many years.

He said modernization will not only reduce maintenance costs, but energy and utility savings would be considerable with state-of-the-art infrastructure.

Waikiki Vista
Waikiki Vista(Google Maps via City and County of Honolulu)

The mayor said the newly purchased Waikiki Vista high rise on Kapiolani Boulevard could house his administration, the city council and taxpayer services during the renovation.

There is about 40,000 square feet of former offices and classrooms in the center four floors of the building, which was built by Tokai University of Japan and presently used as a dorm by Hawaii Pacific University.

“We could move offices in there and they have a wonderful auditorium there that is almost identical to our council chambers,” Blangiardi said.

He said plans to use of the building’s upper stories for affordable housing will move ahead next year as planned, and if the city government moves in, the tenants and city workers would share the building until Honolulu Hale becomes available.

The project will need council approval. Say said that was not a sure thing until there are more assessments of the conditions.

“With the engineering studies and all of these reports that will be coming back to the city, at that point we can make a decision if we are going to change it or not,” Say said.

With such an old building, and so many other unknowns, the project brings to mind the renovation of the Hawaii state Capitol in the early 1990s.

It took four years to complete as the cost ballooned from $15 million to $67 million and became a nightmare for the politicians that pushed it.

Blangiardi laughed when asked if he was tempted to push the project off to the next mayor.

“You know, ah, no. You know what, no,” he said. “We’re taking some pride in doing the tough stuff.”