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

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi is proposing moving the city government to a high-rise to make room for a $100 million Honolulu Hale renovation.

Blangiardi says he is committed to the project, although there are still many unknowns about what might be behind the thick walls of the massive building.

“To me, keeping it for, say, the next 100 years is a really romantic notion,” Blangiardi said in an exclusive interview with Hawaii News Now. “It’s a real contribution to the city.”

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

“It takes a lot,” Blangiardi said. “I think band-aids have been put in place over the years, decades, and we’ve gotten to a point where we can’t use a band-aid anymore.”

Honolulu Councilman Calvin says maintaining the building is an increasing burden on taxpayers.

“The plumbing is outdated, the air conditioning is outdated, everything you see here is outdated, and it’s cost the general taxpayer a lot of money to operate and maintain,” Say said.

Say said upgrading would end that waste — as would savings from new energy-efficient systems.

As an example, Mayor Hawaii News Now showed a tiny utility room behind curtains in his office.

There, next to a caulked window, is an air conditioner and an open foil vent – obviously unable to keep air from escaping.

His bathroom looks unchanged since the 1950s.

Many fixtures in the building cannot be safely removed because they are attached to or cover hazardous materials such as lead paint and asbestos.

“I’m curious if we can do it,” said Say. “When I came on board two years ago, there were horror stories about people with cancer, people with asbestos problems, etc.”

Say that council members have been told they can’t even put new carpets because when the old carpets are removed something can become airborne.

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

Chief Executive Mike Formby said an ambitious timeline would mean final designs could be ready in 2025 and construction could begin a year later.

Doing it all in one phase could take five and a half years, with a conservative estimate of the cost at $100 million.

Say points out that while ongoing repairs are paid for from the city’s operating budget — taking money away from other programs while the renovation could be funded by bonds — they pay for themselves over many years.

He said the modernization will not only reduce maintenance costs, but also mean energy and utility savings with a state-of-the-art infrastructure.

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

The mayor said the newly acquired Waikiki Vista high-rise on Kapiolani Boulevard could house his administration, city council and taxpayers during the renovation.

The middle four floors of the building, which was built by Tokai University of Japan and is currently used as a residence hall by Hawaii Pacific University, contain about 40,000 square meters of former offices and classrooms.

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

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

The project must be approved by the municipal council. Say said it’s not certain until there are further assessments of the conditions.

“With the engineering studies and all these reports that are going to come back to town, at this point we can decide whether or not to change it,” Say said.

With such an old building and so many other unknowns, the project is reminiscent of the Hawaii State Capitol renovation in the early 1990s.

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

Blangiardi laughed when asked if he was tempted to hand the project over to the next mayor.

“You know, uh, no. You know what, no,” he said. “We pride ourselves on doing the hard stuff.”

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