Wednesday, July 17, 2013


Unite Here Local 5 and Aikea demonstrate against condo conversions at the Ilikai Hotel

by Larry Geller

Hey Ilikai…listen up…\
people power risin up

Unite Here 1


Condo conversion at the Ilikai Hotel in Waikiki has caused serious job loss. As the Ilikai’s hotel room count shrank from about 800 to a quarter of that, union jobs dropped from 750 to about 63 at present. Conversion owners can clearly clean up for themselves (or not), and so the number of service employees has dwindled.

A demonstration was held along Ala Moana Boulevard fronting the Ilikai this afternoon starting at 4 p.m. The crowd expanded across the sidewalks towards 5 p.m. as community members from Aikea and others swelled the ranks of Unite Here Local 5 members. Altogether the demonstration commanded the length of the sidewalk a block in either direction from the Ilikai entrance.

Local jobs under attack what do we do?
Stand up fight back!

Unite Here 3


Unite Here 2


As both the union and its community supporters in Aikea have noted, the issue is broader than even the dwindling number of jobs at this one hotel.

As hotel rooms are converted, some end up as time-shares and some end up as residential units. Both uses place distinct infrastructure demands on the city that hotel rooms do not. The Hobron area, pictured in the panorama below that I took this morning from near the Ilikai, reported the highest population density in the 2010 census: 87,816 persons per square mile (as reported in the Star-Advertiser).  The population density of Hong Kong is “only” about 67,000 persons per square mile.


Traffic is already congested—it’s not clear whether condo conversions significantly increase the traffic density, but between new Ilikai residents and future occupants of the 22 towers planned to be built just a short walk away at Ward Village, plus the proposed 350-foot condo tower at the current site of the nearby Atkinson YMCA, this end of Waikiki will come to resemble Hong Kong more than Honolulu.

Imagine the scramble on a day there’s a UH game on, or even on the first day a Costco coupon book becomes effective. It’s all part of a fabric. Or, if you hate Hong Kong, part of a disaster in the works.

Lost jobs are never good, either for the families involved or for the tax base, but Unite Here Local 5 may have an uphill battle trying to reverse the trend. It’s one thing for a union to stand for fair wages or benefits, for example, but convincing a government body to intervene in how a property owner deploys its own assets appears to be more challenging. The effort will have to be broader than just the Ilikai, and the workers and their supporters will have to substantiate the estimated loss of $30 million in annual tax revenues claimed for the years 2007 to the present. Since the costs to maintain a city remain constant (or increase), that $30 million has to come from somewhere (hint: check your wallet or purse).

Add to that loss the increase in the cost of infrastructure (roads, water, sewer pipes, schools, etc.) and it’s not clear that the area can absorb the planned increase in residential units without substantial taxpayer expenditures.

Not that this will stop developers or the Kakaako development czars from seeking even higher height exemptions and even greater population densities.

It used to be that $30 million was a lot of money, so perhaps stopping further condo conversions could become a government priority if the case can be made loudly enough. Today was good start—between the chanting and the honking of passing cars, the Ilikai and that little corner of Waikiki got the message loud and clear.

Condo conversions going down/
We’re the people we own this town!


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