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A Royal Revamping

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A Royal Revamping

Source: Honolulu Star Bulletin

The $84 million remake of the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center is on schedule

An $84 million renovation at the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center, which sits at the 50-yard line of the state's most prominent shopping strip, is in full play and on track for a 2006 finish.

Parts of the concrete fortress, which has blocked the sun and surf from view since it was built to cater to the upscale Japanese visitors of the 1980s and 1990s boom years, are being bulldozed to create an only-in-Hawaii shopping experience, where consumers can learn about the host culture.

The Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center revitalization is important not only for the economic return that it gives to help fund education for Hawaii children but because it's also a great cultural asset, said Susan Todani, director of investments for Kamehameha Schools, the state's largest private landowner.

We want to restore mana to this site, which was named after Helumoa, a mythological chicken that scratched the earth and confirmed what we already know -- that this is a very special place, Todani said yesterday during a hard-hat tour of the project.

The revitalization, which began in August, is on track and on budget for completion by the end of next year, said Leland Jones, the project superintendent for Charles Pankow Builders Ltd.

This is an artist's rendering of the changes now in progress at the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center.

art1b.jpg

*For more pics of renderings go HERE

The renovation is the first major shake-up in the 26-year history of the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center, which many consider the cultural and economic jewel of Kamehameha Schools' real estate holding.

Upon completion, the now 293,000-square-foot center, which fronts the Sheraton Waikiki and the Royal Hawaiian hotels and spans three blocks in the heart of Waikiki, will have grown by a mere 12,000 or so square feet but will have completely shuffled its tenant mix. The luxury retailers, which have made the center famous, will be joined by more entertainment venues, restaurants and small businesses, which will offer top-quality made-in-Hawaii products, Todani said.

The Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center is just one of several key Waikiki properties that have launched mega-renovation and tenant repositioning projects as a prosperous local economy and improved visitor numbers have renewed interest in a once tired market. While Hawaii's unemployment rate is at a historic low, the state's dominant visitor industry, which is expected to attract more than 7 million visitors this year, is at an all-time high, with locals and tourists coming back to Waikiki.

Projects like the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center renovation, Outrigger's Lewers Street project and the International Market Place are designed to appeal to a new breed of tourists, comprising mainland visitors, time-share buyers, cruise-ship travelers, friends of the military and value-conscious Asians. These savvy tourists are looking for culture and substance along with their sun, sand and shopping, said retail analyst Stephany Sofos.

We have to diversify our market, Sofos said. "In the 1980s, the Japanese people came fast and furious and those who didn't cater to them were left out. Now it's changing, and as visitor groups change, retailers have to figure out what their market is from one day to the next."

The Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center project is designed to bring back locals and appeal to these more sophisticated tourists by emphasizing the site's historic connection to Helumoa, the former residence of Kamehameha the Great and a place of retreat for Bernice Pauahi Bishop, the founder and benefactor of Kamehameha Schools.

Three mammoth concrete walkways, at the apex of the center, have been crushed so that Helumoa's once-historic Royal Grove, which boasted 10,000 coconut trees in the 16th century, can be recreated on a smaller scale to serve as modern-day 33,000-square-foot gathering place in Waikiki.

A team of cultural and architectural experts also have worked to lighten the center's imposing structure and make it more pedestrian friendly, Todani said. Tenant visibility has been increased by the use of more lanais and open air spaces, and where possible storefronts have been angled toward the busy Kalakaua Avenue strip, she said.

The center, which has opened a veritable smorgasbord of new stores in the last year or so, is in lease negotiations to fill more spots with several brand retailers from renowned locations like Rodeo Drive, Madison Avenue and Las Vegas.

We are expected to make more announcements soon, Todani said. The success of the Cheesecake Factory, which has garnered an unheard-of $19 million a year or so in sales since opening, has expanded the number of retailers who are interested in the center.

New luxury and lifestyle merchants, such as watch retailer Tourneau, Kate Spade and Furla, will join flagship stores that are already open, or are under construction, including Cartier, Hermes, Salvatore Ferragamo, Bvlgari and Fendi.

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