When the Legislature created the High Technology Development Corp., it granted broad powers to fulfill a lofty vision: develop industrial parks for “biotechnology, software, computers, telecommunications, and other computer-related technologies.”

Three decades later, the HTDC — now called the Hawaii Technology Development Corp. — is lining up tenants for its first major industrial park.

But they’re not the scientists, engineers and technicians envisioned by legislators.

Instead, plans call for the park to mainly provide offices, storage space and training grounds for police officers, state sheriffs, firefighters and other first responders.  Features would include a firing range, police dog facility, rappel tower, pool and gym.

An artist’s rendering of the pedestrian mall for the Cyber Security and First Responder Tech Park, which will cost about $55 million for infrastructure alone, such as roads, sewage and drainage. Hawaii Technology Development Corp./University of Hawaii Community Design Center

Earlier this month the HTDC board approved the $9.8 million acquisition of land near Mililani from Castle & Cooke. The 150-acre project carries a $55 million price tag for infrastructure alone.

How does a park for emergency personnel fulfill HTDC’s high-tech mission?

“Well, it’s a tech park, that’s how we labeled it from the beginning,” said Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, a long-time supporter of the project. “We’re dealing with cybersecurity. We’re dealing with new technology. And we have HTDC’s involvement in it.”

Elijah Yip, a member of the HTDC board that is shepherding the project along, agreed.

“This park has a cybersecurity component to it, and that is clearly within the definition of high technology,” Yip said.

“If we keep finding excuses why we can’t pursue something, Hawaii will never move forward.” — Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz

HTDC’s executive director and chief executive, Robbie Melton, has a more expansive view. She said even the firing range falls within HTDC’s mission.

“Training is not the old style of training,” she said. “Everything involves technology. They’re going to be trained on very advanced technology equipment.”

The facility’s name certainly sounds high tech: the Cyber Security and First Responder Tech Park.

But according to its preliminary development plan, only about 4 percent of the park’s total built area would be for the Hawaii Office of Enterprise Technology Services, the state’s information technology arm. Another 5 percent would be dedicated to the HTDC.

The biggest intended tenants haven’t committed to the park, their representatives said last week.

The vast majority of built space in the conceptual plan would be for first responders, including 21 percent for the state Department of Public Safety, 18 percent for the Honolulu Police Department, 10 percent for Emergency Medical Services, 7 percent for the Hawaii Air National Guard and about 3 percent for the Honolulu Fire Department.

Robbie Melton, executive director and chief executive of the Hawaii Technology Development Corp., said an industrial park with office space and training facilities for police and emergency workers will promote technology development. Stewart Yerton/Civil Beat

That seems to represent a big departure from the stated mission of the HTDC. The organization bills itself on its website as “a dynamic state agency responsible for diversifying Hawaii’s economy developing a florishing (sic) technology industry that provides quality, high-paying jobs for Hawaii residents.

“HTDC aims to accelerate the growth of Hawaii’s high technology industry by providing capital, building infrastructure and developing talent to foster innovation and diversify Hawaii’s economy,” the website says.

To that end, the HTDC operates the Manoa Innovation Center and Maui Research & Technology Center, business incubators for tech startups on Oahu and Maui. Clients include Cardax Inc., which makes anti-inflammatory drugs and supplements; Bright Light Digital, an electronic sign company, and Startup Capital Ventures, a venture capital firm based in Menlo Park, California, which has an office at the Manoa Innovation Center.

HTDC’s Formative Stage

That kind of high technology business development is what state lawmakers envisioned when they passed legislation establishing the park in 1983. Committee reports show the HTDC tech parks were envisioned to promote economic development by creating technology jobs.

“Such development would provide additional employment opportunities and income for Hawaii residents,” the Senate Ways and Means Committee said in its report on the bill.

Act 152, which then-Gov. George Ariyoshi signed into law on May 31, 1983, foresaw the HTDC using its unusual powers – including authority to buy land and issue special purpose revenue bonds – to help establish Hawaii as a high technology research center “where scientists, engineers, and technicians from the United States and other nations can have the opportunity to share their knowledge and expertise and jointly pursue high technology research and development.”

Although the Legislature intended for the HTDC to create facilities for technology research and development, the Cyber Security and First Responder Tech Park would include a pool, firing range, rappel tower and driving course. HTDC/University of Hawaii Community Design Center

Melton said much has changed since the Legislature established the HTDC. While police officers and emergency workers might not be doing cutting edge research to develop new technology, they will be using technology. And that fulfills the legislative intent of the HTDC’s enabling law, she said.

“Our goal is to promote the technology and innovation economy,” she said. “And to us, this park fits into that mission.”

Asked if there was a limit to what the HTDC could develop under that rationale, she said it probably wouldn’t build a shopping mall or restaurant. But, she said, such decisions are ultimately up to the HTDC board, which is chaired by Race Randle, director of development for The Howard Hughes Corp., best known in Honolulu for the mixed-use Ward Village neighborhood.

The HTDC board has already approved the $9.8 million acquisition of land near Mililani. Stewart Yerton/Civil Beat

Also on the HTDC board are two members of Gov. David Ige’s cabinet: Luis Salaveria, director of the Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism; and Wesley Machida, director of the Department of Budget and Finance.

A spokeswoman for Ige declined to comment on the project.

The next step is to close on the land purchase, Melton said. The HTDC also must complete its master plan, she said. Plus there’s the challenge of financing the project. The $55 million infrastructure price tag covers only items such as roads and sewage, and electrical facilities. It does not include construction costs.

Plans call for 190,000 square feet of built space for the Honolulu Police Department and Honolulu Fire Department alone. The state Department of Public Safety is slotted for the biggest share of space: 266,000 square feet for a new Sheriff Division headquarters, classroom, storage and a “mock city” for training.

Melton said the HTDC will likely seek additional funding from Honolulu taxpayers and from the Legislature, where Dela Cruz can play a key role as chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Nothing Finalized With Major Intended Tenants

Dela Cruz said he had spoken to the National Security Agency and FBI about locating operations in the park, but no commitment has been secured from the federal agencies.

Other potential stakeholders submitted written testimony in favor of the HTDC buying the land, but no tenant agreements have been finalized.

Todd Nacapuy, Hawaii’s chief information officer, wrote that the state’s networks “need new secure and permanent quarters in the cyber security and first responder tech park.”

The heads of the Hawaii National Guard and Air National Guard also submitted testimony supporting the acquisition, saying that first responders frequently train together and that the park would allow more such training.

The director of the Department of Public Safety, Nolan Espinda, also testified in support of the acquisition, saying the department plans to house its Sheriff Division, Narcotics Enforcement Division and Training Academy at the park.

Sen Donovan Dela Cruz chats with Rep Aquino after conference committee. 27 april 2016.
Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz admitted that it’s “debatable” whether the park fits the Legislature’s vision for high tech development. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

But a Department of Public Safety spokeswoman said last week the department hasn’t committed to anything.

“We did suggest the possibility of including some training and storage space as well as a portion of our sheriff operations, but nothing has been finalized,” said Toni Schwartz, DPS’s public information officer

Michelle Yu, a spokeswoman for the Honolulu Police Department, said someone from the department had attended an initial meeting about the park “awhile back,” but that the department has made no commitment.

“We’re not aware of anything that’s transpired” since the initial meeting, Yu said.

Dela Cruz admitted that it’s “debatable” whether the proposed park fits the Legislature’s vision of technology development. But he added, “There’s clearly a nexus or we couldn’t have gone this far.”

He said there are solid economic development reasons to build the park. Putting multiple first responder operations in one space will save money by letting them share resources and create a magnet for other nearby development by private firms that want to be near the big facility, he said.

“If we keep finding excuses why we can’t pursue something, Hawaii will never move forward,” Dela Cruz said.

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