The beginning of of a project to transform Aloha Tower Marketplace is expected to not only build up Hawaii Pacific University, but also breathe new life into the area.
The project was several years in the making.
Lawmakers and leaders for Hawaii Pacific University broke ground at a very empty Aloha Tower Market Place on Wednesday.
Hawaii Pacific, the state's largest private university, has invested more than $40 million to revitalize the center.
It begins with the top floor which offices will turn into dorm rooms, adding 270 beds. The goal is to get that done by July 2015.
On the bottom floor, Barnes & Noble is expected first. A coffee shop will follow, as will a mix of retail and restaurants that could include Ruby Tuesday and Johnny Rockets.
"We're hoping to have at least a 50-50 mix. We want to add a couple more restaurants. We've got some mom and pop stores on the perimeter," said Sam Moku, vice president of HPU's university relations.
It's expected that a cracked seed and shave ice store will also be included.
"Critical to student enrollment here is solving our housing problem. Hawaii is a beautiful, beautiful place to be but as we all know it's not cheap to live here," said HPU president Geoffery Bannister.
Four shops remain: Gordon Bierch, Hooters, Star of Honolulu and The Cab.
A total of 80,000 square feet of space is up for lease.
"This is a key element, central element, in the renewal of the entire urban core," said Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie.
In March, 17 shops with month-to-month leases cleared out, some leaving stuff behind.
HPU officials said once construction is complete, those businesses will have a chance to reapply.
HPU expects the project will initially create some 200 jobs.
There will also be a library, classrooms, and parking reserved for patrons in hopes that the site will be much more than a college hangout.
"We want to make sure the community is welcome to all of this that is happening at Aloha Tower," Moku said.
Redevelopment of Pier 10 awaits final approval. The university wanted a gym there, but height limits made that impossible.
HPU plans to make another big announcement in a couple of weeks. University officials said a major tech company will be partnering with the college to enhance services at the university.