By Keli‘i Akina
It appears lots of people have been stunned final week to listen to that the massive Walmart retailer in Downtown Honolulu will likely be closing this month.
It’s tempting to invest about what this implies for the way forward for retail within the space, however we shouldn’t make broad assumptions based mostly on the closure of a single massive field retailer.
As a substitute, I wish to speak in regards to the alternatives that such a closure represents.
Specifically, Hawaii wants extra housing. On the identical time — due to altering demographics, extra folks working from their houses, financial tendencies, no matter — we’re more and more seeing extra empty workplace and industrial buildings across the islands, such because the soon-to-be ex-Walmart.
Why not convert these empty areas into locations to reside?
There’s a reputation for this observe of reworking buildings for brand spanking new functions: adaptive reuse. You are taking a constructing that was constructed for one function — a retail house, a warehouse, an workplace constructing — and also you transform or renovate it to serve a brand new function, like offering housing.
Adaptive reuse is a brand new identify for an previous observe, nevertheless it has been gaining recognition in American cities. Partly, that’s as a result of it makes financial sense.
One examine discovered that repurposing an older constructing to create new housing can save as a lot as 48% in development prices in comparison with constructing from scratch. Given Hawaii’s excessive materials and development prices that contribute to the excessive worth of housing within the islands, adaptive reuse is an effective way to make housing extra inexpensive.
It’s additionally environmentally pleasant. Demolishing an older constructing creates plenty of waste for landfills, and even the brand new, energy-efficient constructing which may substitute it doesn’t at all times fully offset the environmental value of the demolition.
And from an emotional viewpoint, typically we develop hooked up to older buildings. We just like the character they offer our cities and neighborhoods. We don’t essentially need to substitute them with cookie-cutter condominium buildings.
By way of the economic system, creating new housing models in vacant industrial areas may help revitalize neighborhoods and profit native companies.
So why hasn’t Hawaii totally embraced adaptive reuse? Nicely, to some extent it has. In early 2021, Hawaii Enterprise journal wrote in regards to the office-to-residential conversion in Downtown Honolulu of 1132 Bishop Road and the transformation in Kailua of the previous Macy’s into Lau Hala Outlets. However each concerned searching for regulatory waivers that take money and time.
Hawaii Public Radio famous in an article final month that the developer behind the conversion of 1132 Bishop Road — now referred to as The Residences at Bishop Place — “labored with town to make use of a strong housing incentive referred to as 201H that waives some constructing necessities to generate extra inexpensive models.” However even that took time to rearrange, and was centered on only one phase of the housing market.
So the issue of rigid extreme rules stays.
Contemplate the case of the Davies Pacific Middle workplace constructing in Downtown Honolulu, about 75% of which the Avalon Group is planning to show into greater than 400 condos. Not solely is it anticipating the allowing to take not less than 18 months, it has run into issues with town’s constructing code, which might make the conversions financially infeasible.
Christine Camp, Avalon president and CEO, advised to Hawaii Public Radio final month that “the Metropolis and County of Honolulu ought to contemplate altering constructing necessities to match the evolving nature of acceptable dwelling situations, equivalent to air-con and air flow in lieu of getting home windows that open.
“If we’re clamoring for housing and housing to be constructed now,” she stated, “shouldn’t we take a look at methods to vary our code to replicate our present atmosphere? … Do we actually want park dedication in downtown core? Or ought to we make it in order that the downtown models are far cheaper and cheaper to keep up total?”
Along with constructing code modifications, equivalent to one proposed just lately by Honolulu Council member Tyler Dos Santos-Tam, we additionally want to handle the allowing backlog, zoning rules that prohibit residential makes use of in industrial or industrial zones and myriad different rules that decelerate the creation of latest housing.
Addressing Hawaii’s housing disaster requires a multipronged strategy with options aimed toward encouraging housing development throughout totally different classes.
We don’t want simply sprawling new developments of single-family houses, equivalent to Ho‘opili in Ewa Seaside and Koa Ridge between Mililani and Waipio. We’d like condos, duplexes, triplexes, studio flats and a variety of different choices.
Not everybody won’t be enthusiastic about the potential of shopping for an condominium in a transformed Walmart, however for some folks, it could possibly be good.
Keli‘i Akina is president and CEO of Grassroot Institute of Hawaii.