Mayor Kirk Caldwell wouldn’t talk to Civil Beat about some $50,000 in campaign contributions that he’s received from Los Angeles developers seeking to exceed building height limits and gain other concessions for their luxury hotel-condominium towers in Waikiki. 

But he did talk to Steve Uyehara of Hawaii News Now on Monday, who asked him about Civil Beat’s story on the contributions during his morning Sunrise show. 

Los-Angeles based real estate firms Pacrep LLC and Irongate Capital Partners are in the process of developing the Ritz-Carlton Residences at 2121 Kuhio Avenue and recently announced plans to build a second tower at 2139 Kuhio Avenue, which will be connected to the first. 

The developers, their family members and business associates have contributed heavily to Caldwell as well as City Council members. 

“How will those contributions affect your decisions regarding that vote?” Uyehara asked Caldwell.

The mayor responded that there is a need to develop more hotel rooms in Waikiki so that the tourist district doesn’t lose visitors to other international destinations. 

“Obviously, I do support these types of projects,” said Caldwell. “They need the council’s approval too, but I’ll be working with them on that.”

Uyehara pressed him on the contributions. “But the contribution has nothing do with your decision?” he asked. 

“Absolutely not, absolutely not,” said the mayor. “It’s something I support. It’s something I’ve supported for quite a few years now. I believe to be competitive we need more product in Waikiki and we actually need higher-end product, and the Ritz-Carlton will be doing exactly that.”

But critics say they aren’t opposed to the new buildings, but rather the exemptions they are gaining from City Council members and Honolulu’s Department of Planning and Permitting. 

In January 2013, the City Council voted 7-2 to allow Pacrep’s first tower to exceed the 300-foot height limit for buildings in the Waikiki Special Design District by 50-feet. And Honolulu’s planning and permitting department approved the developer’s request to angle the tower parallel to the coastline, in violation of Waikiki building guidelines. 

New buildings are supposed to be angled mauka to makai in order to protect public view planes and aid the flow of tradewinds.

The developer is now back before the City Council and the city’s planning and permitting department asking for the same concessions for its second tower. 

Watch the Hawaii News Now segment here

Read more about the approximately $100,000 in contributions to city officials and complaints by Waikiki residents here

Photo: Screenshot, Hawaii News Now segment, ‘Ask the Mayor

— Sophie Cocke