Revisiting Kaka’ako: The Building Continues to Create a High-Rise Neighborhood

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Hughes Map 1 SM copy

Back in May, I wrote about the Kaka’ako area of Honolulu and its meteoric growth into a new urban high-rise jungle. It is an area located between Waikiki and downtown Honolulu that for decades was full of warehouses and small local businesses. It also contains the Ala Moana and Ward shopping centers within its boundaries.

During the run-up to the to the housing crash, General Growth Properties assembled the Ward Centers and Ala Moana into what was to become a housing village. General Growth got caught over extended and was forced to sell major portions of its portfolio including the 60-acres of Ward Centers. Howard Hughes purchased the plot and set out to craft a unique Ward Village that will take 10-20 years to complete.

The 20-year plan in glass.
The 20-year plan in glass.

The time span takes into consideration the vagaries of the global economy. If it continues to surge, I expect completion will be closer to ten years. A widespread falter may push it to twenty.

Hughes’ first two buildings, Waiena and Anaha, written about before, are nearing completion in 2016 with only a handful of units still available. The next buildings to come online will be Ae’o, Gateway Towers (2), and Ke Kilohana (where 375 of 424 units are reserved for Hawai’i residents who meet certain income requirements).

Ke Kilohana gets plenty of coolness
Ke Kilohana gets plenty of coolness

Hawai’i is one of the states that understands that locals have to be able to afford to live in the area and forces new development to set aside a portion of units for local buyers who meet income requirements at below-market prices ($300-500,000-ish). Between the state’s limited buildable area and the significant attraction of second homeowners, Hawai’i real estate prices are stratospherically well known. If homes aren’t built for a local population, the wealthy will be getting their own coffee because no one who can afford to live in the area would deign to work at Starbucks or even Neiman’s. So unless you’re planning on a permanent move to the area, cross Ke Kilohana off your list.

But don’t fret, there are three buildings in Ward Village you can pick from. Ae’o and Gateway Towers.

Ae'o Exterior 1
Ae’o with bumped-out “wings” to improve views (and street-level Whole Foods)

Ae’o – The Hawai’ian Stilt Bird

The name is fitting for this building, containing 466 units, that rises above the Ward Theaters to capture views of the Pacific beyond. With the short edge of this rectangular building facing the ocean, architectural “wings” were designed into the long sides that allow ocean views from side units. It’s a practical architectural flourish from architect Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, who you know for designing the Apple glass cube store on 5th Avenue in Manhattan.

Homes range from a 406 square foot studio to a 1,331 square foot, 3-bedroom with prices beginning in the low $400,000s. Maximizing interior space, units do not have lanais. By Texas standards, these are not expansive units (as reflected in the Hawai’ian-modest pricing). In fact, given the option, I’d lose a bedroom in a 3-brdroom unit for a more generous living/dining area. Smaller units would require serious lifestyle editing and expectation re-evaluation for full-time usage.

What I like about this building is its location towards the back of the development. It still has good views, but it’s not smack on the 6-lane, heavily-trafficked Ala Moana Boulevard. In my opinion, the closer you get to that major roadway, the more closed-window, air-conditioning dependent the owner becomes.

Normally, I’d also point out that the theaters could be demolished and replaced by a view-killing high-rise, but since Hughes owns that parcel it’s safe to say that won’t happen. Hughes has been very good at designing the village as a single organism, taking into consideration views once the plan is complete in the future. It’s one of the benefits to single-owner thinking and planning (and why Dallas’ Preston Center looks so bad).


Floor to ceiling glass expands small spaces
Floor to ceiling glass expands small spaces

Ae’o directly connects via a private entrance to the area’s flagship Whole Foods. The raised, private “amenity deck” will house two pools (one the domain of the few children likely to live in the complex), gym, spa, movie theater, dog run, private dining room with catering kitchen and of course a Karaoke lounge. That last one gives a hint to whom these buildings are targeting. Also, like the Sky Lounge at Dallas’ Mayfair, Ae’o will have a Sky Terrace indoor/outdoor space for residents.

Baths incorporate wet rooms for bath and shower
Baths incorporate wet rooms for bath and shower

Being in Hughes lowest pricing tier, ceilings are 8.5’ high with electric kitchens are fitted with Bosch appliances. Higher-tier buildings get better fittings and higher ceilings. For example, Hughes reserves gas kitchens for their highest-tier buildings. There are seven color schemes that can be mixed or matched between kitchen and baths. Toto toilets, naturally. One criticism I have on new construction is the lack of pocket door use in tight spaces. They make small rooms feel less cramped.

If you want to peek at all the floor plans for this building, you can download them here or visit the full building website here.

Gateway Towers Official Ext

Gateway Towers

The more swish of the two future Hughes properties is Gateway Towers, a pair of opposing buildings designed by Richard Meier and Partners (Getty Center architect). So far, the as yet unnamed cylindrical building on the right is available for purchase. The second tower, separated by a 1-acre Gateway Park comes later. The cylinder houses just six residents per floor that range from a 904 square foot 1-bedroom to a 3-bedroom 2,574 square foot unit. Prices range start at $1.6-million for the 1-bedroom ($1,668 per square foot) and (before penthouses) top out at $7.285-million ($2,830 per square foot).

 I can see my house from here! The “Gold Coast” in the distance.
I can see my house from here! The “Gold Coast” in the distance.

Finishes are what you’d expect at this price point. Gaggenau kitchens with gas cooktops, Dornbracht faucets, Bulthaup kitchen cabinetry, Toto Neorest washlets and a bathtub designed by the architect himself.

There are no balconies per say. There are large sliding glass panels that open the home, but there’s no outside space. I wonder if this is in response to Asian buyers not liking lanais? I have no idea if it’s true (and I can’t find anything online) but I recall being told years ago that new high-rises in Hawai’i catering to Japanese buyers lacked lanais. Old wives’ tale?

Interestingly, Gateway Towers have 100% clear glass, which is unusual for high-rises that tend to have a tint. Architect Meier believes the emotion transferred by weather is important and that sunlight shouldn’t be diffused in Hawai’i. These spaces will be VERY BIIGHT.

 I have those same chairs (Crate & Barrel painted white)
I have those same chairs (Crate & Barrel painted white)

Target market, as it is for all $1+-million homes in Hawai’i is largely mainland and particularly Asian buyers (Toto Neorest toilets and no balconies are a tip off). Sure there will be some local empty nesters here, but these buildings will be largely empty as owners visit the properties a few times per year. How much more peace do you need? Visit the website here.

One version for the Bulthaup kitchen
One version for the Bulthaup / Gaggenau kitchen

Again, it’s important to note there’s a 6-lane semi-highway between the building and the Ala Moana Beach Park. High floor is a must for noise control or be prepared for a lot of closed-window air-conditioning.

If these buildings don’t excite or dear Aunt Gert hasn’t left you the family jewels yet, remember, Ward Village will take many years to finish out. You’ve got time. But get on the mailing list now to keep updated.

I’ve said before that Ward Village is too clean-cut for me. But having visited the sales office and understood the vision, I can say that if I didn’t love my current place, I’d think about Ward Village. I wouldn’t move in right away. Perhaps I’d lock in today’s prices and rent the space. Maybe in 10-20 years I’d move in in retirement, once the dust has settled and the shine has worn a bit and it has matured into the neighborhood it sets out to be.

The sold out Collection
The sold out Collection

Howard Hughes is Not Alone

There are many other developments in Kaka’ako besides Ward Village. The Collection is closer to downtown Honolulu and targeted at a more local buyer with 466 (small) units from one (580 square feet) to three bedrooms (1,217 square feet). This building violates my rule about bedrooms smaller than 12-feet in width/length (king beds become wall-to-wall). However, with some priced under $400,000, the entire development sold out months. Now that’s a hot market!

Park Lane 1

The Park Lane at Ala Moana

Remember I said that General Growth Properties was forced to sell 60-acres to Howard Hughes? They got to keep Ala Moana Shopping Center, the state’s largest and most profitable mall. But what to do when you got aced out of hugely profitable residential building at Ward? You tack on an addition to the Ala Moana Shopping Center of 215 super-spendy condos in seven 6-story buildings mounted on top of a parking garage with beach views across the 6-lane Ala Moana Boulevard. And with only 6-stories, it’s all AC, all the time, to dull the road noise. Not my idea of paradise.

Park Lane 2

Half the units are slated for local buyers and have been on sale since January 2015. Prices range from $1.2 million for a 1-bedroom to $21-million for the grand penthouse. Other units include a $2.798m 2-bedroom unit with 1,580 square feet and a 313 square foot lanai facing the courtyard ($1,770 per covered square foot). For a 1,332 square foot (263 square foot lanai), 2-bedroom you’re looking at $5,035 million ($3,489 per covered square foot). The 5,790 square foot Grand Penthouse with 905 square feet of lanai space tops out at $3,678 per covered square foot not ten stories off the ground.

Lottery winnings or no, I’d never choose to live here. It’s a terrible location attached to a busy shopping center overlooking and overhearing a 6-lane semi-highway. The only way to enjoy the tranquility of Hawai’i is to seal yourself inside a posh, air-conditioned box.

Not me. But if it’s you, all you need is here.


Remember: Do you have a location you’d like to see featured?  I travel quite a bit and enjoy poking around real estate.  Realtors, have clients who’d like to document their second home journey?  Shoot Jon an email. Marriage proposals accepted (they’re legal)!