The best time to address the issue of what is owed to our beneficiaries was decades ago.
The next best time is now. That is why I am so pleased that the Board of Trustees recently took the important step of demonstrating OHA’s good faith and determination to deliver to beneficiaries in accordance with our mission by approving an initial investment of $2.7 million to develop Lot A in Kakaʻako Makai, the area popularly known as Fisherman’s Wharf.
OHA’s due diligence work has confirmed the venture will be a profitable investment for OHA with immeasurable returns to its beneficiaries and the community at large on multiple levels through development of a range of entertainment and recreational venues and activities.
But we have to think beyond that decision. We have to dream bigger dreams.
We would be wise to remember that returns on investment (ROI) go far beyond estimated financial returns. It encompasses all the benefits to beneficiaries and the broader public that will result from the access provided to worthwhile arts, dining and recreational enterprises. Productive wholesome activity will replace an area fallen into disrepair. An area that has attracted unsanitary and sometimes criminal activity will be transformed into an aesthetically pleasing, productive space where families can feel safe to bring their children and relax. This initial investment is a bold and visionary first step that lays the groundwork and makes clear the priorities for future development on our lands.
Some may wonder why we don’t just simply turn over a project like this to a third party. Good question.
As someone who has had a career in real estate, I know with certainty that establishing OHA’s leadership in governance from the outset is critical to who we partner with and how that partner performs going forward. We don’t want development for development’s sake. We want the best and highest use of this valuable land that also serves the long-term interests of our beneficiaries and the people of Hawaiʻi.
This initial investment, and how we manage it, will send a strong message to future partners and make clear that our expectations go beyond just turning a profit. It also puts us in a far better position to reap a richer return on investment than if we were to simply turn it over to a third-party developer.
As we go forward, we will need to consider current zoning laws and work with the legislature and the HCDA to make changes that will allow Native Hawaiians to get their just due from the lands that constituted the state’s discharge of a debt due. For that to happen, decision-makers need to see that OHA is serious about how it is approaching the challenge of managing some of the most prized coastal lands on Oʻahu. Prospective partners need to understand that OHA is driven by a sacred trust and duty to perform in ways that honor our ancestors and provide for future generations. The public needs to feel confident and support the development of this area because they can see how they will benefit from it.
I thank the Trustees for their faith and courage in moving forward with this critical first step. We owe it to our beneficiaries. They have waited long enough.
Now is the time for action.