A popular visitor attraction on Nimitz Highway is being eyed by the city council as the site of a transitional shelter for the homeless.
The flagship store for Hilo Hattie has been in Iwilei since the early 1980s. In February, Hilo Hattie’s parent company, Pomare, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
The store is only several blocks away from shelters, one for men, the other for women and children, operated by the Institute for Human Services.
The first hint that the city council was interested in acquiring the Hilo Hattie building actually surfaced last fall when council chairman Ernie Martin brought up the idea at a conference for retail merchants. He then shared the idea with his colleague, Joey Manahan, who is currently dealing with the homeless who have set up camp along Kapalama canal in Kalihi.
“We are looking at Hilo Hattie as a possible place to retrofit and create temporary shelters, as well as co-locate services,” said Manahan.
Manahan hopes the building will then be able to take in the homeless along the canal, as well as those now living on the sidewalks in Kakaako.
Hilo Hattie’s executive vice-president and chief operating officer Mark Storfer told KHON2 he was caught off-guard by the city’s sudden interest in the building.
In a written statement, Storfer said:
“We’ve been in contact with the C&C off and on for well over a year. As you may be aware our leasehold interest in this property (owned fee simple by The Weinberg Foundation) has been marketed for almost two years now. Our primary objective is to seek an investor to acquire our ownership position so we can operate a Hilo Hattie retail store at the property and relocate our corporate office and distribution center to a smaller building elsewhere. Some of the capital received from such a sale would be directed at adding a Hilo Hattie location in Waikiki.”
While this is a city council initiative, Roy Amemiya, the city’s managing director, said the administration is working on a letter of interest to send to the bankruptcy court.
But Amemiya cautioned that there are several issues of concern.
“We understand from social services that putting a whole lot of people into a single facility, like 800, is ill-advised,” he said. “They prefer a scattered site approach.”
Amemiya said there will probably be a lengthy proceeding in bankruptcy court and there is the matter of dealing with The Weinberg Foundation.
“The land is owned by the landowner, not the company, and that’s another wrinkle,” said Amemiya, “but we’re certainly open to looking at it.”
Amemiya also pointed to the $106,000 per month in lease rent now being paid to the foundation, money that is currently not provided for in the current version of the proposed 2016 fiscal year budget now under review by the council.
Martin told KHON2 that if the city is serious about an offer for the 80,000-square-foot building, which includes a showroom, manufacturing center, warehouse and mezzanine, the landlord may be willing to negotiate the monthly lease rent for use of the land.
At one time, the city was interested in relocating up to 100 homeless people to an empty lot at Sand Island, but Manahan has his eye on the Hilo Hattie property.
“This is preferable to having an empty lot with tents way out at Sand Island,” he said.
KHON2 reached out to businesses in the area for comment.
Executives for both Zippy’s Restaurants and City Mill said they were surprised by news of the city council’s proposed move to acquire the Hilo Hattie building.
Both said they would not be able to comment further until they learn more details about the actual use of the property.