The State of Hawaii’s tourism market has been steadily increasing since 2009, but 2012 was one for the record books with the highest number of visitor arrivals and the highest amount of visitor spending ever. While the final totals have yet to be added up, industry experts believe that visitor arrivals would surpass 8 million people, significantly beating the record set in 2006 with 7.6 million. Visitor spending is projected at $15 billion.
Tourism has definitely been the driving force for Hawaii’s economic recovery, and has lead to strong job growth in the hotel industry, retail shops, restaurants, airlines, and other tourism related businesses. However, while Oahu did extremely well with higher hotel occupancy rates and increase room rates, the neighbor islands still struggled to increase their numbers significantly. Unemployment rates are dramatically lower on Oahu as opposed to the neighbor islands.
Oahu’s Real Estate market has also made huge gains from a year prior. In November 2012, single family home values had increased by 9 percent in the first 11 months of the year. The median single family home price was $625,000. Condominium values had also increased by 5 percent in the first 11 months of the year.
Longs Drugs Stores has announced that they have purchased two parcels of land next to McKinley High School in Makiki for $14.5 million. Currently, there are two office buildings on the land, but Longs plans to build a new 24,000 sq ft stone with a drive-through pharmacy in 2013. The office buildings will be demolished according to Longs’ plan.
The Hawaii Medical Service Association has announced that they will be increasing insurance rates for approximately 13,000 individuals by an average of 8.8 percent in 2013. HMSA had originally asked permission from the state of Hawaii’s Insurance Division to increase rates by 9.8 percent but the Commissioner Gordon Ito decided to limit it to 8.8 percent. Ito stated, “HMSA’s rate filing was for 9.8 percent, even at this, HMSA projected a medical loss. he individual market continues to be a challenge with a high volatility of claim expenses and a small pool to spread the risk out. The individual filing was not deemed excessive, but we felt the profit estimate of 7 percent, primarily as a result of investment income, could be reduced to provide a rate relief to the individual group.”
In a statement, HMSA commented, “We are optimistic that our programs, like patient centered medical home program and our pay for quality programs, are slowing the growth of costs and we will continue to invest in programs that provide our members with access to quality care at a reasonable cost.” HMSA is the state of Hawaii’s largest health insurer.
On Wednesday, December 26, 2012, Governor Neil Abercrombie appointed Lieutenant Governor Brian Schatz to be the new United States Senator, filling a vacancy left open after the death of Daniel Inouye. Under the state of Hawaii’s Constitution, the Hawaii Senate’s President would be next in line to become the Lieutenant Governor and Shan Tsutsui graciously accepted the position. Tsutsui stated, “I just look at this as a tremendous opportunity. We’re going to get moving right away.” Shan Tsutsui at the age of 41 was the youngest Senate president ever appointed when he accepted that role in 2010, and was also the first Senate president from the island of Maui. Tsutsui added, “The neighbor islands is one of the things I’d like to focus on, too. I’d like to serve as a liaison to all of the neighbor islands.” Tsutsui will establish an official state office on the island of Maui as well has working from the state capital on Oahu.
Federal Judge A. Wallace Tashima has ruled that construction may resume for all but the final section of the $5.26 billion Honolulu Rail Project. The city is required to conduct studies on the impact on Mother Waldron Park in Kakaako, the feasibility of creating an alternative route involving a tunnel under Beretania Street to protect historic Chinatown, and to conduct a survey of traditional and cultural sites along the 20-mile route. However, since the majority of these items involve the last stretch of rail to be built in downtown Honolulu, Judge Tashima stated that construction may begin in other areas. Anti-rail groups had hoped that Judge Tashima would require that construction along the entire route would be halted until all issues were resolved. These same groups have stated that they may appeal Judge Tashima’s decision.
Executive Director for the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, Dan Grabauskas, stated, “This is the news we had hoped for. The judge’s ruling allows us to complete the remaining work requested by the court, while keeping the project on schedule. These additional studies will be completed next year, well in advance of when construction was scheduled to begin in the City Center area (fourth phase). Oahu residents can look forward to seeing their rail system fully operational in 2019 as planned.”
According to the National Weather Service, the North Shore of Oahu can expect some huge waves over the next few weeks, with waves reaching as high as 25-feet-plus over this coming weekend. While the huge surf will help to stimulate the North Shore’s economy as thousands of visitors and locals alike head out there to check out the waves, the Ocean Safety Division’s Operations Chief Jim Howe warns that the waves are not for novice swimmers or surfers. Howe stated, “From our point of view, the big surf season has finally really kicked in. We anticipate seeing surf above the 15-foot-face range for the next three to four weeks and going above that on occasion.”
City officials noted that over 700 preventive warnings were given to beach goers on December 27, 2012 alone for North Shore beaches and five people were rescued by lifeguards. Spokeswoman for the Emergency Services Department, Shayne Enright, added, “We appreciate the public’s cooperation with our lifeguards as we are expecting more large swells to roll in over the next few days and early next week. It’s important to know during a high-surf warning, dangerous battering waves will pound the shoreline and can result in very dangerous swimming conditions and deadly rip currents.”
According to data released by the Hawaii Tourism Authority, the state of Hawaii has already reached $12.9 billion of spending during the first 11 months of 2012. This already beats the record set in 2007 of $12.9 billion of spending, with one additional month of data for the month of December to be collected and tabulated. Specifically, the island of Oahu saw the largest gains in tourism with 11.4 percent more visitors and 19 percent more spending as compared to the first 11 months of 2011. The Big Island of Hawaii saw an 8.7 percent increase in visitors and a 17.3 percent increase in spending. Kauai had a 7.3 percent increase in visitors and a 21.7 percent increase in spending. Surprising, Maui saw only a 5.8 percent increase in visitors, but a 19.4 percent increase in spending. For the minor islands, Molokai saw a decrease in visitor arrivals by 2 percent, while spending rose by 6.2 percent. Lanai also saw a decrease of 1.2 percent in visitor arrivals and spending increased by 2 percent.
Governor Neil Abercrombie has selected Lieutenant Governor Brian Schatz to fill the U.S. Senate position left vacant by the passing of Daniel Inouye, Schatz left on board Air Force One with President Barack Obama for Washington D.C. and will be sworn into office immediately. Schatz stated, ”I’m humbled and honored by this opportunity and obligation to serve the people of Hawaii and the people of America. No one can fill Senator Daniel K. Inouye’s shoes, but together, all of us, we can try to walk in his footsteps. That means always thinking about what’s best for Hawaii, working together and representing our values and priorities in the nation’s capital. And for me, in this position, it means the first step on a very long road.”
Brian Schatz concluded by saying, “To the people of Hawaii, I can assure you this: I will give every fiber of my being to doing a good job for the state of Hawaii. We have a long and perhaps difficult road ahead of us, but we can succeed if we work together. I understand the magnitude of this obligation and this honor. And I won’t let you down.” Schatz will serve until 2014, when Hawaii voters can elect whom they wish to finish Inouye’s term, which would end in 2016. State Senate President Shan Tsutsui will become the new Lieutenant Governor for Hawaii.
On January 2, 2012, the City and County of Honolulu placed a ban for all fireworks except for firecrackers. However, the Honolulu Fire Department still urges the public to be very careful with firecrackers. Fire Captain Terry Seelig stated, “When you have firecrackers, that’s a lot of uncontrolled ignition sources if people aren’t careful. So we’re always concerned when they’re being used. I think that perhaps people have realized that celebrating with firecrackers needs prudence and are being more careful and maybe a little more restrained. We’re hoping that however they celebrate, they do it safely and with consideration for their neighbors and friends.”
Firecracker permits on the island of Oahu cost $25 and a buyer may purchase 5,000 individual firecrackers per permit. There is no limit to the number of permits that a person may purchase. They may be set off from 9:00 pm on New Year’s Eve to 1:00 am on New Year’s Day.
With the firework ban, the number of injuries reported to the state Department of Health’s Injury Prevention and Control program dropped from 79 to 15 over the New Year in 2012. Fire department calls also dropped from 36 firework-related fires to 22 fires last year.
According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, revenue from farms in Hawaii had increased by 7 percent in 2012 to $719.5 million. As a comparison, in 2008 the industry had only $600 million in revenue. Cattle revenue saw an 50 percent increase thanks to a new program setting prices at a regional level, while the algae production saw a 51 percent increase. Macadamia nuts had a 27 percent increase in revenues and sugar can had a 12 percent increase. Seed corn and other seed crops had a modest 2 percent gain. Papayas, coffee, cabbage, anthuriums, and potted dendrobiums saw revenue decreases.
Pineapples are not reported due to the fact that Dole Food Company is the only producer of that crop.
On June 29, 2012, the state of Hawaii enacted Act 182, which brought about drastic changes to Hawaii’s foreclosure laws including requiring an attorney to verify the accuracy of all documents submitted by lenders in a case. In the months immediately following June, new foreclosure lawsuits plummeted to an average of 60 to 70 per month, and then increased to 196 in October.
According to the state of Hawaii Judiciary, the total number of foreclosures in Hawaii increased to 313 in November 2012. This was still a decrease from November 2011 where there were 395 new cases, but experts believe that as lawyers and mortgage lenders adjust to the new state foreclosure requirements that this number will continue to rise. It is unclear if Act 182 will really help homeowners stay in their properties in the long haul.
According to the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, Hawaii’s unemployment rate dropped to 5.3 percent in November 2012. Honolulu County had the lowest rate at 4.8 percent, followed by Maui County at 5.7 percent. Kauai County had a 6.4 percent unemployment rate and Hawaii County (Big Island) had the highest rate at 7.4 percent. Nationally, the unemployment rate was 7.7 percent in November.
The Hawaiian Electric Company has announced that electrical rates have decreased by 11 percent in December 2012 as compared to the same month a year prior. Oahu residents will pay 31.1 cents per kilowatt-hour, which means that a typical 600-kilowatt-hour home would pay $195.38. Neighbor islands also saw a decrease in rates. Maui customers paid the Maui Electric Company 39.5 cents per kilowatt-hour. Big Island of Hawaii residents paid 38.7 cents per kilowatt-hour. Kauai residents paid the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative 43.9 cents per kilowatt-hour.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in the month of September 2012, Hawaii had the highest electrical rate in the nation at 37.07 cents per kilowatt-hour. In comparison the national average was 12.3 cents per kilowatt-hour and the low was the state of Idaho at 8.1 cents per kilowatt-hour.
Governor Neil Abercrombie has announced that he is going to be budgeting $2 million to repair and renovate the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium. The governor stated, “The natatorium simply can’t go on the way it is. It’s almost immoral. We know we’re going to have to spend some money, regardless of what happens. Right now it looks as if removal of the pool itself is a likely outcome. So we’ll try to come to decision as quickly as we can and then work with the city and the mayor to come to a mutual agreement on what to do, not just about the pool and everything, but the whole area, and then do it.”
Mayor-elect Kirk Caldwell added, “I look forward to working with Gov. Abercrombie and the City Council to address the deteriorating conditions of the Natatorium, yet respecting those who served during World War I.”. The Natatorium opened in 1927 as a monument to World War I veterans. It was forced to close in 1979.
Governor Neil Abercrombie has decided that he will wait until the state’s Council on Revenue meets in the new year before making any decision about raising taxes or creating any other type of revenue-boosting measure for Hawaii. The Council is scheduled to convene on January 3, 2013 and may revise their forecast about how much tax revenue is expected to be generated in he coming years. The governor is asking for an additional $439 million in spending for the next fiscal year with most of that money going towards updating state’s computer system and improving the state’s early childhood education programs. Abercrombie stated, “We’ll deal with the revenue question and where we go with that and what we’re going to need when we have the Council on Revenues projections. We’re making the best projection we can right now from the figures that are available to us.”
Developer Pacrep LLC has announced that they will be building a new $275 million condominium-hotel tower at 2121 Kuhio Avenue in the heart of Waikiki. The 37-story project will have a total of 459 units and the sales office is expected to open in the beginning 2013. Units will range in size from 400 sq ft to 3,000 sq ft. Tentative, construction will begin late 2013 and the completion date expected in early 2016.
Pacrep LLC has added that Ritz-Carlton will be managing the property and has stated that the tentative name of the project is now The Ritz-Carlton Residences Waikiki Beach. This will be the Ritz-Carlton’s first presence on the island of Oahu, and it’s second presence in the Hawaiian Islands. The Ritz also operates a hotel in Kapalua, Maui. A Pacrep principal, Jason Grosfeld, commented, ”The Residences will further secure Waikiki’s position as a world-class destination providing full- and part-time residents, as well as visitors, with all the legendary services and amenities they have come to expect of The Ritz-Carlton brand.”
Pacrep still needs to obtain several permits from the city and a variance from the City Council before construction can commence. The biggest challenge is that the high limit for the property is 300 feet, and building plans call for a 350 foot tower. Owners of the neighboring Four-Paddle condominium are also concerned with the direction that the Ritz-Carlton Waikiki tower faces, as it would completely destroy the Four Paddle’s ocean views.
United States Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has announced that the U.S. Department of Transportation has signed a deal which will provide the city of Honolulu with $1.55 billion of federal funding for the Honolulu Rail Project. Many Hawaii officials credit the late Senator Daniel Inouye, who passed away on Monday, for his tireless work in Congress for making this funding possible. The project is still on hold until an archaeological survey of the entire route has been completed. However, rail officials believe that the survey should be done within the next month or two and hope to have the court allow them to resume construction in the first quarter of 2013.
There has been a long standing joke that Hawaii’s economy has three main driving forces: tourism, the military, and Senator Daniel Inouye. Since becoming a Senator in 1963, Inouye had worked incredibly hard in obtaining federal funding for projects in Hawaii. From build freeways and improving the road systems, to improving military facilities, to obtaining money for education, Inouye secured tens of billions of dollars for the Hawaiian Islands. The economic significance of his passing is not lost to Hawaii economists and political leaders.
Leroy Laney, an economics professor at Hawaii Pacific University, commented, “His impact transcends military spending with projects too numerous to mention. He knows people in the Department of Transportation, the Commerce Department and the Pentagon. He knows who to call. Over the years he’s brought in a lot of money that has stimulated the economy. You just can’t replace that kind of seniority in the Senate. That’s the way the Senate works. You stay in that long to get into a position of seniority and you’re able to bring a lot of money into your home state, and he certainly does.”
Chief economists of TZ Economics, Paul Brewbaker, added, “There was no one more well respected than Sen. Inouye. It’s important to remember that he brought Hawaii a stature that it will probably have difficulty sustaining. That’s important because Hawaii’s ongoing challenge is with maintaining ‘street cred’ from an economic and business standpoint. No sooner than you achieve some credibility, it evaporates. Having someone of Sen. Inouye’s status helps with that ongoing battle.”
According to a report released by Hospitality Advisors LLC, hotel revenues for the state of Hawaii increased to $249.7 million, or a 11.6 percent increase, in October 2012. President and CEO of Hospitality Advisors, Joseph Toy, stated, “I’m confident that we’ll hit a record for hotel revenues for the whole of 2012. The visitor market redefined itself this year, and we’ve got momentum heading into 2013 and 2014.” In terms of hotel occupancy, Oahu had the highest rate at 82 percent for the month of October. Maui came in second with a 69.1 percent occupancy rate. Kauai had a 68 percent occupancy rate and the Big Island of Hawaii had a 61.4 percent occupancy rate. Industry experts are extremely happy with the number of visitors that are staying on Oahu, but have expressed concern as to how they can increase tourism to the neighbor islands.
The Federal Government is looking for ways to increase revenue and to reduce the federal budget before December 31, 2012. One suggestion has been to completely eliminate or significantly reduce the mortgage interest rate deduction that homeowners are allowed to take. It is estimated that this mortgage deduction costs the federal government $100 billion per year in tax revenue. Hawaii real estate experts are concerned that if the mortgage deduction is lost, then the ability to purchase a home would be lost to even more Hawaii residents. Hawaii already has one one of the lowest percentages of home ownership in the country at approximately 57 percent.
United States Senator, Daniel Inouye, stated, “We need to leave it in place. “The deduction helps the real estate industry and the building industry, but most importantly it helps many more people realize the dream of homeownership.” United States Representative Colleen Hanabusa, added, “The deduction is often a critical factor in determining whether a family can afford to own a home, and eliminating it would reduce housing purchases. I think the proposal to eliminate the mortgage interest deduction is a slap to the middle class.”
According to the Hawaii Tourism Authority, a total of 59,934 international visitors came to Hawaii during the first 10 months of 2012 to get married. Even more impressively, 271,805 international honeymooners came to Hawaii during that same period. This represented a 2.5 percent increase and a 20.8 percent increase respectively as compared to the same 10 month period in 2011. While the exact numbers for how many of these marriages and honeymooners were from China have not been calculated yet, Vice President of Brand Management for the HTA, David Uchiyama, believes that there has been a significant increase. Uchiyama stated, “When you look at developing markets like Korea and China, the connection to romance is automatic and is one of the fastest-growing segments. We saw similar things happen when the Japan market was developing years ago.”
Additional direct flights from China to the Hawaiian Islands have definitely helped the market. Managing Director for BCM International, CJ Chen, stated, “More and more Chinese couples are falling in love with Hawaii and want to get married here. I’ve seen the wedding numbers grow as Hawaii has become more popular and more accessible. This market is following the Korea and Japan markets. Eventually, I think it will surpass them. Chinese couples represent a real opportunity for wedding service providers. Our numbers are only going to grow, and with that, demand for services will, too.”
TheKnot.com’s editior, Jennie Ma, agreed and stated, “The wedding industry in China is developing very quickly. Many celebrities are having weddings in beach and tropical locations, and many Chinese brides are picking up on it. We recently asked Chinese brides which destinations most appealed to them, and Hawaii was in the top five. Brides liked that it was closer to them than other destinations and that it had beautiful surf and beaches. We are seeing many brides who want a destination wedding in Hawaii, but the challenge is the visa for the couple and their wedding party and guests. It’s more a matter of getting approval and convenient flights than financial difficulties.”
The Queen’s Health Systems has announced that they have finalized their purchase of the Hawaii Medical Center-West campus on Oahu and that they will be reopening the hospital in early 2014. Queen’s purchased the property from St. Francis Healthcare Systems of Hawaii for $40 million and will spend approximately $30 million in renovations and new equipment for the hospital. The hospital will be renamed Queen’s Medical Center-West Oahu, and would eventually hire approximately 400 staff members to run the facility.
According to the Real Property Assessment Division, the tax assessed value for all real property on the island of Oahu had increased by 2.3 percent in the past year. Specifically, residential properties increased by an average of 2.1 percent, hotel and resort properties increased by 9.3 percent, commercial properties by 0.7 percent and industrial properties by 3.2 percent. The total gross assessed valuation for all taxable real property on Oahu was $184.4 billion.
This slight increase does equate to some additional tax revenue for the City and County of Honolulu for the upcoming fiscal year, but there are many property owners who are concerned that the City Council may decide to increase real property tax rates anyway. Currently, residential property owners pay a tax rate of $3.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value. However, if the Honolulu City Council and the Mayor’s Office is unable to get the budget balanced and in fiscal order, they may have no choice but to increase this rate.
The Hawaii Community Development Authority has announced that they have selected Forest City Enterprises Inc. to be the developer to build a rental apartment tower in Kakaako. The property will be built at 690 Pohukaina Street near downtown Honolulu, and the tentative plan is to build a 650 foot tall tower with 804 rental units. Forest City had a backup plan of building two smaller 400 foot towers if approval to build a mega tower is not given.
The project is expected to cost $293 million and there are some very specific rental requirements already in place. A total of 390 of the units will be considered to be affordable and be given to tenants with no more than 120 percent of Honolulu’s median income. Another 390 units would be restricted to tenants earning no mote than 140 percent of the city’s median income. The remaining units would be rented to anyone regardless of their social-economic position. Forest City announced that they would also build 24 luxury penthouse apartments for rent.
Assuming that permitting moves according to schedule, the project would start construction in 2016 and be completed in 2019.
Federal Judge A. Wallace Tashima has been listening to arguments from both the city and an anti-rail group who is challenging the Federal Transit Administrations decision to approve the project before the city was able to properly explain why a downtown route under Beretania Street is not a viable alternative to the elevated rail route. If Judge Tashima rules against the city, he could potentially halt the rail project until the city explores a route beneath Beretania and consider other alternatives to the downtown route. City attorneys argue if Tashima rules against them, the project could be crippled with an additional 7 months of delays where thousands of workers could lose their jobs, an additional $149 million would be spent, and $1.5 billion in funding could be canceled by the federal government.
Judge Tashima did not give any indication about which way he would rule, but did state that he will decide shortly. Regardless of his decision, both sides have stated that they may appeal to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals once it has been made.
The state of Hawaii and the Trust for Public Land, a non profit organization, have just announced that they have purchased more then 1,700 acres of undeveloped land on the island of Oahu for $25 million from the George Galbraith Estate. Out of this, 500 acres will be be set aside as preservation, while the remaining 1,200 acres will be made available to farmers by the middle of 2013. While the exact produce grown has yet to be determined, it is expected that it would include vegetable crops like cabbage, lettuce, basil and tomatoes. Executive Director of the state Agribusiness Development Corp, James Nakatani, stated, “Within about six months the land should be ready to go, ready to plant. Our plan is to provide both large and small farming operations with long-term leases. There will also be an opportunity for farmers on neighbor islands to expand their operations on Oahu.
According to the Trust for Public Land, Hawaii imports between 85 percent and 90 percent of its foods. The trust hopes that by expanding food production, Hawaii can become more self-sufficient. Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie commented, “I think the interest is going to be enormous. I think we’re going to take major strides towards agricultural sustainability that simply hasn’t been possible.”
According to the America’s Health Ranking 2012, Hawaii is the second-healthiest state in the nation, an increase from its number three ranking a year prior. The study and report is published through a joint effort by the United Health Foundation, the American Public Health Association and the Partnership for Prevention. Hawaii had relatively low rates of obesity, smoking and sedentary lifestyles, as well as low a low number of deaths from cancer and cardiovascular disease. In general, Hawaii health officials were pleased with the news, but felt even more could be done. The state of Hawaii’s Health Director, Loretta Fuddy, commented, “The state has taken many positive steps in the last year, but chronic disease and obesity are still major growing concerns, especially when it comes to our children. Because the measures used in the rankings reflect the condition of the ‘average’ resident, the report can mask serious health disparities within our island state. In Hawaii there are often startling differences between ethnic groups and rural areas of the state that should not be ignored.”
The healthiest state in the country was Vermont, followed by Hawaii and with New Hampshire rounding out the top three. The least healthiest states were Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. For more detailed information, you could go to www.americashealthrankings.org/rankings
Advanced Health Care Corp., an Idaho company, has announced that they would like to build a skilled nursing facility in Aina Haina. The company stated that they are under contract to purchase a 2.4 acre property located at 5415 Kalanianaole Highway. The plan is to build a 48,000 square foot facility which would have a total of fifty rooms, which would cater mostly to seniors on Medicare and Medicade. However, there are several major contigencies regarding the actual purchase of the property, and the company hopes to finish its state regulatory and permitting process before the transaction is scheduled to close in September 2013. If everything moves according to schedule, the facility would be built in 2014 and open in early 2015.
However, the project does face some opposition from the community. President of the Aina Haina Community Association, Wayson Chow, stated that concerns include how a large commercial facility on the beachfront would impact traffic and other shoreline concerns. Chow added, “To build a health care facility on an oceanfront property that’s previously been hit by the 1946 tsunami endangers the safety of patients and employees, and it would cause substantial disruption of the limited Aina Haina tsunami refuge facility. It is unwise and highly unreasonable.”
For almost 20 years, the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani creates a global gingerbread village around the holiday season, but this year executive chef Ralf Bauer outdid himself when he added another 100 square feet of village to incorporate additional international destinations. The entire project covers a 14-by-25 foot space and took over 800 man hours to design, construct and set up. The masterpiece incorporates 250 gallons of icing, 150 lbs of dark chocolate, 50 lbs of white chocolate, and 90 sheets of gingerbread. Bauer stated, ”We build the entire structure new every year. People come from all over the world. I want them to say that they’ve never seen anything like this before and that they identify with what they see. I’ve heard from people from nearly every country represented in the village, except France. Personally, I think when they see it, they will say that it is, ‘C’est magnifique!’”
Starwood Hotels and Resorts’ Senior Vice President and Director of Operations, Keith Vieira, noted that almost 45 percent of their Oahu visitors have been foreign travelers. Vieira stated, ”International growth in Hawaii has been significant. Certainly the Japan business has continued to grow and rebound throughout the year. We’ve also had nice growth out of Australia and Canada, and we’ve had big percentage increases, albeit still small numbers, out of Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and China. International growth has been very positive and has had an overall compression effect in Waikiki and on Maui, although we are still working on growing our distribution in Kauai and on (the Big Island of Hawaii).
According to a report released by the state of Hawaii’s Campaign Spending Commission, the pro-rail group, Pacific Resource Partnership PAC, spent over $3.2 million in advertising during the 2012 Mayor Election. As a comparison, the amount spent by the PRP was more then the two candidates spent combined. Mayor-elect Kirk Caldwell, a supporter of rail, spent $1.7 million, while former Governor Ben Cayetano, who vowed to end rail, spent $1.4 million. Cayetano, who lost the election, is currently suing the Pacific Resource Partnership for defamation, and alleges that the advertisements made were false and defamatory.
The Mutual Housing Association of Hawaii has announced that they will now be accepting applications for the Ko’oloa’ula Apartments, a new affordable housing project in East Kapolei. The initial phase of the $35.4 million community will contain 120 apartments within three-story townhouse buildings. There will be one, two, three and four bedroom units in the complex and rents will be between $519 and $1,550 depending on the size of the apartment.
Applicants can go to www.mutual-housing.org or call 550-3800. Applications must be in by January 14, 2012 and a lottery will be held on January 19, 2012. Restrictions include having a maximum annual income of $43,260 for a one-person household, $49,440 for a two-person household, and $61,800 for a four person household. There are other maximum limits depending on the size of the household. The project will serve individuals, households and seniors with incomes between 30 an 60 percent of Honolulu’s median incomes as established by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation has announced that they will be giving Kiewit Infrastructure West, one of the main contractors for the Honolulu Rail Project, $25.9 million for delays caused by the city. This amount represents the actual cost to Kiewit Infrastructure as they sit on the sideline waiting for the Honolulu Rail Project to resume construction due to the city receiving a court order to halt all work until an archaeological survey for the entire route had been completed. Kiewit and HART are in negotiations for other costs that the company attributes to the delay. It is estimated that the city will spend an additional $7 million per month that the project is on hold.
In an 8 to 1 vote, the Honolulu City Council has given their approval to have the city’s administration sign an agreement with the Federal Transit Authority to accept $1.55 billion in federal funding for the Honolulu Rail Project. Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle stated, ”Before the end of the month I will be going once again to D.C. and it will be ultimately with the effort to try and make sure that I can sign that little thing that will get us $1.55 billion, which is going to be circulating through the economy and do all sorts of wonders for the future that we have. It’s always been our hope to have a lean, clean, smart city in the future that has opportunities for people to stay living here in Honolulu and opportunities for us to grow as a city. This is going to be the vehicle that will allow us to do that.”
Tom Berg was the only city councilman who voted against accepting the federal funding. Once a supporter of rail, Berg now disagrees with the steel-wheel on steel-rail project and believes that there are newer, cheaper, and more efficient alternatives to reduce Honolulu’s traffic problems. Berg stated, ”Everything about this is not fiscally sound. This is a nice to have project and if it were monorail, if it were Maglev (magnetic levitation), it’d be a third of the price. We could go to UH, Waikiki, it would be a better bang for your buck. But this steel-wheel, steel-rail, archaic behemoth, is not the solution.”
The Hawaii Community Development Authority has given their approval to create a 46 story tower at 801 South Street in Kakaako. This $200 million project is expected to create a total of 635 affordable units priced between $250,000 for a studio and $550,000 for a two-bedroom unit. If there is enough demand, a second tower with an additional 400 units could be build for another $200 million. Sales and construction of the first tower is expected to begin in the middle of 2013 and the project should be ready for occupancy in 2015.
In order to qualify to purchase in this building, a household would have to earn less then $82,700 for a single person and $115,780 for a family of four. This designates the property as “workforce housing”. Developer Marshall Hung announced that he would use a lottery system for all eligible buyers. Hung added, ”With the average price of a single family home on Oahu at $600,000 and climbing fast, coupled with a stagnant household median income, we believe our project will give local residents priced out of the current market an opportunity to purchase or rent a high-quality condominium in urban Honolulu they can afford.”
According to a report released by CoreLogic, home prices in Hawaii increased by 13.2 percent in October as compared to the same month a year prior. This increase ranked Hawaii as the second highest state in the country in terms of home price increases behind Arizona which saw a 21.3 percent increase. Nevada and Idaho tied for third with 12.4 percent increases. CoreLogic’s study, showed that home prices nationally had increased 6.3 percent from October 2011 to October 2012.
The University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization (UHERO) had predicted that single family home prices for the island of Oahu would increase by 6.8 percent in 2013, 7.7 percent in 2014 and 10.8 percent in 2015. If accurate, this would increase the median home price to $800,100 in just three years. UHERO believed that condominium prices on Oahu would increase by 5.9 percent in 2013, 7 percent in 2014, and 8.6 percent in 2015. This would mean that the median condominium price on Oahu would be $387,300 by 2015.
According to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, District of Hawaii, there were a total of 211 new personal and business bankruptcy filings in November 2012. This was a decrease of 12.8 percent as compared to the same month a year prior and represented the 21st consecutive month of decrease in bankruptcy filings for the state. Out of these 128 were filed in Honolulu County, a decrease of 7.2 percent, 45 were filed in Maui County, a decrease of 18.2 percent, 29 were filed in Hawaii (Big Island) County, a decrease of 17.1 percent and 9 were filed on Kauai, a decrease of 35.7 percent.
The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation had hired PKF Pacific Hawaii to do an outside audit of the financial books for the first year of the $5.27 Billion Honolulu Rail Project. What PKF Pacific Hawaii found was several minor flaws and mistakes in the accounting practices, but in general found no material weaknesses. Specifically, the audit found that HART staff members had placed sums of money into wrong categories for accounting purposes, but the money did turn up and was spent correctly. PKF Pacific Hawaii suggests that the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation hires additional staff members and improves on their financial reporting process.
City officials stated that the mistakes were made in part because the Honolulu Rail Project was originally under the Department of Transportation Services (DTS) before being transferred to the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART). Chief Financial Officer of HART, Diane Arakaki stated, “As a newly formed agency, HART acknowledges its lack of accounting and financial reporting resources, and has placed a high priority on developing a qualified and experienced accounting staff.” Arakaki assured the public that these problems should not reoccur in future years.
Hawaiian Airlines has announced that starting the summer of 2013, they will be offering nonstop service from Honolulu to Taipei. President and CEO of Hawaiian Airlines, Mark Dunkerley, stated, “We have long known that there is demand for a Hawaii vacation in Taiwan, but visits have been impeded by the cost, complexity and time it has taken its citizens to apply for a U.S. visitor visa. Now that Taiwan is part of the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, we are delighted to be adding Taipei as the latest city in Hawaiian’s growing Asia network. This new flight will help to further increase arrivals from this region. Following Korea’s entrance to the Visa Waiver Program, arrivals from Korea have increased by double digits year over year. With the re-establishment of nonstop service, we would anticipate seeing similar growth from Taiwan.” Hawaiian plans to offer this service three times per week.
According to a study released by the state of Hawaii’s Department of Human Services, in 2012 approximately 17,050 low-income households receive some type of cash subsidy, either state or federally funded, each year. This is an increase of almost 20 percent since 2007 and an increase of approximately 5 percent from the last fiscal year alone. Experts believe that this increase is partially due to families having run out of unemployment benefits or having spent any saving that they previously had. University of Hawaii’s Center on the Family specialist Ivette Stern stated, “A lot of what we’re seeing is what we call the lagging indicators, where the economy is getting better but now is when you’re seeing some of the punch of the downturn. The families that were on the edge are still struggling and will be struggling.”
Most families receive cash help through the federally funded Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. The average cash benefit for TANF families is $559 per month. The state of Hawaii also offers a Temporary Assistance for Other Needy Families program, which provides an average cash benefit of $355 per month. Those who are elderly or disabled can get additional funding with their average cash benefit of approximately $300 per month.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2011 a total of 2.9 percent of the nation’s household had received welfare benefits. However, that year, a total of 4.3 percent of Hawaii households received welfare, which ranked Hawaii as one of the highest welfare participation rates in the country.
The Whitmore Circle Apartments in Wahiawa is an affordable rental complex for seniors. The Vitus Group Inc., who purchased the complex in 2011, has announced that they will spend $2.4 million in improvements for the project including doing interior upgrades, expanding the community center, building outdoor gazebos, adding photovoltaic panels and installing new appliances and fixtures. Under their terms of ownership, the Vitus Group only allows elderly or disabled tenants who earn no more than 50 percent of Honolulu’s median income. The Vitus Groups owns over 7,000 affordable-housing units in 14 states across the nation.
The Hilo Medical Center on the Big Island of Hawaii will be getting $3.7 million in state funding for improvements. According to Governor Neil Abercrombie, the capital improvement funds represent an investment in Hilo Medical Center as an essential part of our public hospital system. As elements of the Affordable Care Act come online, we must continue to invest in our health care infrastructure to ensure that facilities are ready to provide access to quality health care for all the people of Hawaii.
Specifically, the money would be broken down as follows:
$1,052,000 to renovate acute care unit $728,000 to replace medical center’s atrium wall and roof $650,000 to repair leaking roofs $350,000 to replace chiller pipes for air conditioning systems $235,000 for parking lot improvements $233,000 to demolish an old building that is partially collapsed $200,000 to build storage tanks $134,000 to replace add a masonry wall around the behavioral health unit