Downtown Walmart closure a chance for extra housing

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By Keli‘i Akina

It appears lots of people have been shocked final week to listen to that the massive Walmart retailer in Downtown Honolulu might be closing this month. 


It’s tempting to take a position 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 huge field retailer. 

As a substitute, I wish to discuss in regards to the alternatives that such a closure represents. 

Keli‘i Akina

Specifically, Hawaii wants extra housing. On the similar time — due to altering demographics, extra individuals working from their houses, financial tendencies, no matter — we’re more and more seeing extra empty workplace and business 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 follow of remodeling buildings for brand spanking new functions: adaptive reuse. You’re taking a constructing that was constructed for one objective — a retail area, a warehouse, an workplace constructing — and also you rework or renovate it to serve a brand new objective, like offering housing.

Adaptive reuse is a brand new title for an previous follow, but it surely 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 building prices in comparison with constructing from scratch. Given Hawaii’s excessive materials and building prices that contribute to the excessive worth of housing within the islands, adaptive reuse is an effective way to make housing extra reasonably priced.

It’s additionally environmentally pleasant. Demolishing an older constructing creates a whole lot of waste for landfills, and even the brand new, energy-efficient constructing which may exchange it doesn’t all the time completely offset the environmental price of the demolition.

And from an emotional standpoint, typically we develop hooked up to older buildings. We just like the character they provide our cities and neighborhoods. We don’t essentially wish to exchange them with cookie-cutter house buildings. 

By way of the financial system, creating new housing items in vacant business areas will help revitalize neighborhoods and profit native companies.

So why hasn’t Hawaii totally embraced adaptive reuse? Effectively, 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 Avenue and the transformation in Kailua of the previous Macy’s into Lau Hala Retailers. However each concerned in search of 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 Avenue — now known as The Residences at Bishop Place — “labored with town to make use of a strong housing incentive known as 201H that waives some constructing necessities to generate extra reasonably priced items.” However even that took time to rearrange, and was targeted on only one section of the housing market.

So the issue of rigid extreme rules stays.

Think about 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 at the very least 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, prompt to Hawaii Public Radio final month that “the Metropolis and County of Honolulu ought to think about altering constructing necessities to match the evolving nature of acceptable residing situations, corresponding 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 mentioned, “shouldn’t we take a look at methods to vary our code to mirror our present setting? … Do we actually want park dedication in downtown core? Or ought to we make it in order that the downtown items are far inexpensive and cheaper to keep up total?”

Along with constructing code adjustments, corresponding to one proposed just lately by Honolulu Council member Tyler Dos Santos-Tam, we additionally want to deal with the allowing backlog, zoning rules that prohibit residential makes use of in business 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 progress throughout totally different classes. 

We don’t want simply sprawling new developments of single-family houses, corresponding to Ho‘opili in Ewa Seaside and Koa Ridge between Mililani and Waipio. We want condos, duplexes, triplexes, studio flats and a variety of different choices. 

Not everybody won’t be enthusiastic about the potential of shopping for an house in a transformed Walmart, however for some individuals, it might be excellent. 

Keli‘i Akina is president and CEO of Grassroot Institute of Hawaii.