When I saw the Mandarin Oriental construction fencing go up across from the Honolulu convention center, my curiosity was piqued. First, the Mana’olana Place development isn’t a stellar location. To contradict the marketing materials, it is not “steps from the beach” and certainly not while schlepping chairs, towels and sunscreen. It’s also flanked by a bevy of stripper bars and sits across from the aforementioned convention center that’s far from the beehive of activity promised by city leaders more than 20 years ago.
Being a Mandarin Oriental, you’d expect a better, more chic location. Granted, as Kaka’ako (with its large Howard Hughes development in progress), Waikiki and downtown Honolulu inevitably merge together, the Ala Moana area will be just another part of the city, but that’s years away. Folks buying one of the 99 condos or staying in the 125 hotel rooms are unlikely to want a front row seat to a neighborhood in transition.
It, like Kaka’ako, is unlikely to become a super-vibrant neighborhood either. The new high-rises popping up are not aimed at local residents. They’re almost all ultra-luxury targeting the global elite who may spend a few weeks a year soaking up the sun while their asset appreciates. I have visited several of those new buildings and been told that 10 percent occupancy is average. Like its brethren, the Mandarin Oriental is largely constructing an empty box staffed with low-paid servants waiting for someone to show up.
Then there’s the attitude.