The Honolulu City Council’s plan to temporarily move into offices at the downtown Alii Place tower has hit a snag that likely will push the renovation of Council offices at Honolulu Hale into 2021.
Alii Place, which also houses the city Office of the Prosecuting Attorney and the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, is bounded by Alakea, Hotel and Richards streets. It’s about a half-mile from City Hall, and Council leaders have been negotiating with the building’s real estate agents.
Council Chairman Ikaika Anderson said last week that the landlords of Alii Place, The Bristol Group, want a five-year commitment from the Council, something the Council is reluctant to give because it would tie the hands of future Councils. By then five of the current nine Council members will be out of office due to term limits.
Nonetheless, Council members said Friday they want the renovation plans to continue, insisting that the second-floor offices of Honolulu Hale continue to be a health concern for them and their staff aides.
Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi said she and others who work on the second floor develop a cough whenever they’re working there.
Kobayashi, along with Anderson and members Joey Manahan, Ron Menor and Kym Pine, will be finishing up their second terms at the end of 2020.
“Even if I’m gone, I’d still would like to see (renovations) done,” Kobayashi said. “I don’t want to see any more people get hurt.”
Pine said her staff members have been hit with so many illnesses that she’s told them to work from home whenever possible.
“I would support anything that would put my staff in healthier conditions,” Pine said. “We’re having this constant disruption.”
Anderson said former Councilman Rod Tam, who died in May due to complications from leukemia, is just one of a string of people who worked in the Council offices who was diagnosed with cancer. Tam was on the Council from 2003 to 2010.
“Far as I know, Rod had no health issues prior to coming to the Hale,” Anderson said. “He always told me that since coming to the Hale, his allergies were horrible.” That was one of the reasons why he met with constituents at Zippy’s or in the community, Anderson said.
“Currently, the main sticking point is necessary language that must be included in any lease the Council signs,” Anderson said. “Specifically, we must include a clause that would allow for the Council to terminate the lease at-will due to the fact that the Council cannot, legally, bind a future Council to a financial obligation.”
As a result, “this gives the landlord some consternation as the whole point of a multiyear lease is to provide a degree of certainty with respect to rental income,” Anderson said. “Thus, while we are, technically, still in negotiations, I’m not sure that we will be able to overcome this particular hurdle.”
The relocation is supposed to be for approximately two years, which is about how long it’s supposed to take for the city to renovate the second-story offices of Council members, part of the city clerk’s office and the Office of Counsel Services.
Anderson declined to say whether Council leaders are looking at other potential relocation spots. “We’d like to go forward with the renovations; that’s all I can really say,” he said.
Council officials previously told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that they were eyeing a 19th-floor space containing about 19,940 square feet, and a 20th-floor space with about 18,548 square feet.
In its legislative budget for the fiscal year that began July 1, the Council set aside about $2 million for rent and relocation costs. It budgeted about the same amount last year.
Discussion about renovations and a possible relocation began several years ago under former Council Chairman Ernie Martin. A string of Council chairmen have continued to endorse the action.
But Mayor Kirk Caldwell and his administration have raised “serious concerns” about the necessity and cost of relocation.
In October, Caldwell sent Martin a letter that included summaries and full reports of four studies conducted on various health issues raised about Honolulu Hale since 2012. None of the four studies call for significant repairs or renovation.
“Environmental assessments do not justify an immediate relocation,” Caldwell wrote, adding that he instructed the Department of Design and Construction not to help the Council in planning the move.