I’d been to Bevy, a hip tavern on the corner of Keawe and Auahi streets, a few times, once when there was a pop-up vinyl store going on inside. They say that Bevy used to be a cop hangout; it isn’t anymore. And I once attended a meeting at R/D, a free-form collaborative work space next-door.
In the same Kakaako neighborhood, I had eaten well at an Eat the Street event on a desultory Friday night; and a few years ago I witnessed a Pow Wow graffiti happening, during which sanctioned artists, some of them stars from the mainland, splashed their lurid notions onto acres of old, corrugated and cement-block warehouse walls.
All this cultural urbanity over the past several years came courtesy of landowner Kamehameha Schools Bishop Estate — all of them appetizers for an ambitious redevelopment project KSBE has labelled “Our Kakaako.” And that redevelopment includes a conscious effort to build a sense of community.
So, last month I was curious to see how “SALT at Our Kakaako” is shaping up. First announced by KSBE in March 2014, SALT is the recently completed, 76,000-square-foot, low-rise retail and restaurant complex that takes up the block bounded by Ala Moana Boulevard and Keawe, Auahi and Coral streets. Bevy still occupies the corner. (The all-caps brand name “SALT” refers to the shoreline mud pans of old Kakaako, where Hawaiians harvested sea salt.)
SALT’s assemblage of new and repurposed buildings — and its looming new six-story parking garage — is now open for inspection and parking, though much of it remains empty. Tenants who’ve already joined the party include Bevy, the plant store/coffee shop Paiko, Hank’s Haute Dogs, Highway Inn purveying Hawaiian food, a Starbucks and a Sprint store. The grand opening, originally set for April, is now scheduled for December.
Under the watchful gaze of lonely-looking security guards, I wandered through the place. SALT is modest: a two-story warren of entries and passageways, stairs, ramps and a courtyard, set among crisply renovated (or charmingly patched) storefronts, new buildings and bare-bones lanai spaces.
Detailing includes minimalist landscaping, bits of corrugated paneling and graffiti, exposed brick and cement block, patches of exposed old plumbing, industrial lighting fixtures, chainlink fencing, and naked steel posts and beams. An open-air, double-height shed, festooned with strings of bare light bulbs, opens onto Keawe Street, mid-block, directly across from the the 450-unit, 43-floor, blue-glass condominium tower called The Collection, scheduled for completion in November and developed by Alexander & Baldwin. The Collection is the first of four towers KSBE plans for its nine blocks that comprise “Our Kakaako.”
A previously announced fifth tower project, the luxurious Vida 888 condominium, was canceled in January by its local developers, the Kobayashi and MacNaughton groups.
SALT’s style might be described as warehouse funk with graffiti accents. On Coral Street, a row of vintage two-story commercial buildings has been painted into sky blue, ochre and berry-red color blocks, with a lime-green slice of an accent wall.
The barrel-vaulted, corrugated canopy over the Auahi Street frontage, painted royal blue on its underside, echoes the post-World War II quonset huts that once sheltered Kakaako’s sea of small manufacturers and merchants — furniture makers, apparel makers, taverns, grocers, upholsterers, auto and machine shops.
”The challenge to reuse these older warehouses and their materials creates an opportunity to build a beautifully gritty shopping and dining experience that can only exist in urban Honolulu,” said KSBE spokesman Christian O’Connor during SALT’s inaugural announcement two years ago. “This project,” he said, “is uniquely Hawaii. It isn’t a cookie-cutter mall that could be imported or transplanted from somewhere else.”
In a recent phone interview, Paul Kay, KSBE director of planning and development for Kakaako, expands on O’Connor’s remarks in order to explain KSBE’s own internal conceptualizing for the project, well before a team of four architecture firms (two of them based on the mainland) got involved.
“We wanted to create a place in the urban area where everybody could feel comfortable,” Kay tells me, “so we did a lot of research and site visits to other locales where urban redevelopment has taken place, and we noticed that the more you had an eclectic blending of styles and mixed old with new, and the less you worried whether all the edges were perfect — these are the places where the human being feels the most comfortable.
“These are the places that have a lot of people coming in and congregating and enjoying the retail experience, as well as just the public experience of being together.”
Who came up with the rather awkward phrase, “Our Kakaako,” I ask Kay — and was it, I add jokingly, a reaction to Texas developer Howard Hughes’ version of Kakaako?
“Actually,” he answers, “it’s a fair question, because people have asked us that. But it’s not about that. And it’s not about Kamehameha Schools’ Kakaako, either.
“I like to say that when you buy a new house, you start out calling it the house. After a while, it becomes our house…then it becomes our home. And then all the people who come to visit your place feel a sense of this place as ours, as in, we helped craft this place together, through our relationships, and out of love for one another, and with all the things that we brought into this home to make it ours. So the notion of “Our Kakaako” is of a place where everybody who comes there will feel at home — that it’s a place that is ours together.”
I ask Kay if all the stuff that’s been churning in Our Kakaako during the past few years — Pow Wow, Eat the Street, the Night Market, the art, the Agora, even a fine quarterly magazine called “The Foundry: The Journal for Our Kakaako” — all the stuff engineered and sponsored by KSBE, are all those things deliberate building blocks of community on KSBE’s part?
“Yes,” he answers, “they’re all deliberate building blocks of community. You are absolutely correct.
“You know, we’ve done this as an urban master plan. The traditional master-planned community has a club house or a golf course, or some gigantic athletic facility that belongs to the community, and that’s their key amenity. In our case, the key amenity is human interaction, the experience you have outside your four walls. It’s sort of like having a big outdoor living room.”
Will that work? This concept of the “outdoor living room” is based entirely on commercial space.
SALT’s signed tenants moving in during the next few months include Moku, a Peter Merriman restaurant seating 100; Atmasphere Yoga and Orangetheory Fitness, two separate exercise gyms; J’s Grill, a Korean plate lunch spot; Lonohana Estate Chocolate, purveyor of chocolate from Haleiwa; and two distinct sports bars, Pitch and 9Bar HNL.