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Board of Water Supply downtown offices up for development

By Catherine Cruz
Published On: Mar 15 2013 04:43:00 PM HST

The city wants to get the best deal for taxpayers. But the request for proposals are broad and there's no guarantee the buildings, an example of early Hawaii modernism, will stay.

HONOLULU -

Water for Life is  the Board of Water Supply motto.

Thousands of people drive by the iconic fountain fronting the downtown offices, but look behind it and there's lots of space now used for employee parking.

The Board of Water Supply is looking to redevelop the 6-acre site.

"We are not going to sell the land. I want to make it real clear to our customers and the public. Our idea is to seek a long-term ground lease," said chief engineer Ernie Lau.

The lot is zoned residential, but it's been no secret that the Queen's Medical Center is interested in the parcel as part of its master plan.

It will have to compete with other developers who may have ideas of their own.

The city just wants to get the best deal for taxpayers.

The request for proposals is broad and there's no guarantee the buildings--an example of early Hawaii modernism will stay.

The only thing protected is the historic pump station and wells since  it is an active facility. 

"I think the rest of it can be developed and if they can buildable housing for our people at affordable rates, that's wonderful," said Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi. The Manoa councilwoman pushed the Board of Water Supply to find some other way to generate revenue instead of just raising rates.

But the thought of losing the  1920 structures designed by noted architect Hart Wood.,is raising some red flags.

The buildings are located in the downtown capitol district which means there are historic and design protections which could be an issue if a developer wants to tear it down,,

 "That is really alarming," said Historic Hawaii  Foundation Director Kiersten Faulkner. "There is a historic and design significance and that the historic buildings need to be preserved and anything new that is built has to consider be compatible and harmonious to that history."

The Board of Water Supply sayid the height limit for the area is 100 feet.

Lau says the developer could choose to develop just the paved lots and maybe leave the original buildings in place.

But Lau is open to  both  the renovation of the Hart Wood designed buildings or the inclusion of new office space within the new development.

Bids will be due this summer.

A developer is expected to be chosen in early 2014.

There are some more than 300 employees who work in the headquarters which include laboratories, administration offices  and customer service, as well as a base yard.

If the facilities are relocated elsewhere, the labor unions would have  to be consulted.

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