It might seem like a hyperbolic joke that tony Kakaako has become so gentrified that even a multibillion-dollar corporation is being forced out of its space, but that’s actually the case for one of the neighborhood’s longtime  tenants.

International Business Machines Corp., the blue chip corporate resident of its landmark building on Ala Moana Boulevard, is being run out of the space it has occupied since the 1960s. The IBM Building, with its distinctive modern, concrete facade, will no longer be home for IBM.

“It all goes back to the success we’ve seen at Ward Village,” said Todd Apo, vice president of community relations for The Howard Hughes Corp.’s Ward Village development, which owns the building.

IBM Building facade coconut trees1.
The IBM Building on Ala Moana Boulevard no longer bears the iconic company’s name, and soon the company will leave the building as well. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Howard Hughes is well underway transforming the master-planned community in Kakaako. Since spinning off from General Growth Properties in 2010 and taking over the project, Howard Hughes has pumped about $1.2 billion into the area to build condo towers anchored by retail shops and restaurants.

As of June, the company had sold 1,339 units in four towers: Waiea, Anaha, Aeo and Ke Kilohana. And it had sold another 348 at its planned Aalii condo.

To help with this massive sales push, Howard Hughes has built model condominium units in the IBM Building and plans to add more models to market its forthcoming, 570-unit Koula project slated for Auahi Street, Apo said. Howard Hughes also intends to move workers who are located at remote offices into the IBM Building to be with the rest of the company’s workers, he said.

It’s all a function of the massive growth the company has seen as it has transformed the area into one of Honolulu’s more prestigious neighborhoods. Howard Hughes had 12 employees in 2012, Apo said, and had grown to more than 60 in 2016. By the end of this year, the company expects to have a staff of more than 100, he said.

Howard Hughes now occupies the IBM Building’s second, third, sixth and seventh floors, said Race Randle, senior vice president of development for the Texas-based developer. The first floor is an information center.

With IBM’s lease for space on the fourth floor expiring at the end of the year, the landlord has notified Big Blue and other tenants that Howard Hughes will take over the whole floor.

That’s sad news for Stacey Leong Mills, partner and creative director of Stacey Leong Design, a graphic design firm that’s been in the building since 2009, before Howard Hughes came on the scene. She’s sorry to leave the building and says commercial space is getting hard to find in a neighborhood increasingly taken over by residences and retail.

“IBM is leaving what’s known as the IBM Building,” she said, incredulous.

It’s a big change from the early 1960s, when the noted architect Valdimir Ossipoff designed the building for IBM’s Hawaii headquarters. Ossipoff’s uniquely Hawaiian designs include the terminal at Honolulu’s Daniel K. Inouye International Airport, the Outrigger Canoe Club and Punahou School’s Thurston Memorial Chapel.

It’s a distinctive type of mid-20th century modernism, often including open air spaces, as if the Jetsons built a house in the islands after spending time in Japan. And according to Howard Hughes’s website, “Of the dozens of homes and buildings he created, the IBM structure was Ossipoff’s most recognized design.”

The facade is designed to look like IBM’s old “lace” computer punchcards.

“Not only does the systematic and repetitious pattern of the concrete grille (the brise-soleil) express the computer-world character of the IBM Corp., but it also gives the building a sense of belonging in the sun,” Howard Hughes quotes Ossipoff as saying.

Although the public will still likely call the building by its well-known moniker, whether IBM will remain an official name isn’t clear. The landmark Pan Am building on Kapiolani Boulevard still carries the name of Pan American World Airways, even though the airline shut down in 1991 amid a financial fallout caused by the first Persian Gulf War and a terrorist bombing of a transatlantic flight over Lockerbie Scotland in 1988.

But unlike Pan Am, IBM is still a pillar of the Dow Jones Index, with nearly $80 billion in revenue last year. IBM executives did not return calls for comment. Apo declined to comment on the future of the building’s name.

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