“You’re not afraid of heights are you?”
Race Randle, Senior Vice President at Howard Hughes Corporation has stepped casually out onto the glass balcony of a 36th floor penthouse. Below, the waves breaking on the reef appear like chalk smudges. The pages of my notebook ruffle in the wind.
Usually the answer is no, because I’m surrounded by other tall buildings – 400 feet doesn’t feel particularly high in Central Hong Kong or Midtown Manhattan. This balcony floats freely above Honolulu’s aquamarine ocean and there is nothing in my line of site from Pearl Harbor to the Diamond Head crater.
The penthouse, which offers similarly unobstructed views through its floor to ceiling windows, occupies the top floor of Waiea, a rippling glass tower located in Ward Village, a neighbourhood currently being developed on a 60-acre oceanfront parcel between Waikiki and downtown. If the residence fetches the asking price of US$36 million, it will set a new price record for Honolulu.
Price records are frequently broken in Hawaii these days. Last year Hawaii saw double-digit price gains in the luxury segment (defined as the top 5 per cent of sales). According to Realtor.com, luxury prices in Maui increased 33 per cent to an average of US$2.485 million compared to a year prior, while the island of Kauai came in No. 4 in the country with a 25 per cent leap in average luxury price, and The Big Island came in No. 5 with a 24.8 per cent price increase.
But price points are only part of the novelty at Ward Village. The master plan aims to reshape the Honolulu skyline with around 20 new towers, a revitalized marina and waterfront, bike and pedestrian paths, public plazas and vibrant street-level retail. “Hawaii obviously has a lot of great things to offer,” says Todd Apo, Vice President of Community Development at Howard Hughes. “But we’ve never had an urban core.”
Hawaii’s legendary climate, beach resorts and golf courses have long made it a popular holiday getaway. Honolulu, which lies on the southern coast of Ohau, is the most populous city, home to 402,500 residents (955,000 if you count the surrounding areas)
decks fitted with landscaped gardens, lap pools and outdoor kitchens.
For the moment, the streets of Ward Village remain relatively vacant, and large sections of the former industrial area are under construction. But things are changing.
Property sales have been swift in the project’s two completed towers. Only eight residences remain at the James Chengdesigned Waiea tower (meaning “water of life”). Prices range from US$5.3 million for a two-bedroom unit up to US$36 million for the penthouse, which has five bedrooms, five baths and a private rooftop infinity pool.
Across the street at the newly completed Anaha, (meaning “reflection”), only five residences remain with prices from US$2.5 million to US$8 million. There are also two penthouse units available, each with five bedrooms.
In Hawaii, a focus on Polynesian tradition is central to any marketing pitch and property developers are quick to tell you about the traditional meaning of the names they have chosen and their respect for the history of grounds on which they are building. But the focus on culture pervades more than just marketing collateral. Hawaiians have a strong sense of place and often talk about their cultural and geographical heritage.
Kauai, the westernmost and oldest in the island chain (4 million years) is incredibly lush due to its iron-rich soil and the island’s vine-choked forests, plunging waterfalls and broad sand beaches have served as the backdrops for films like Jurassic Park and Pirates of the Caribbean. Kauai has also long been a favored playground of celebrities and executives on their second or third homes (actors Ben Stiller and Pierce Brosnan both own property here).
At the top end of the market hidden coastal compounds sell for tens of millions. In 2014, Mark Zuckerberg famously purchased a 700-acre property on Kauai for US$100 million. Currently Kauai’s most expensive listing is a US$70 million Balinese-inspired estate situated atop a seaside bluff on the island’s north side.
But despite its lavish compounds, Kauai still remains quieter and less developed than other islands. Microclimates play a central role property purchases on Kauai, and the southern Po’ipu coast, which receives the most annual sunshine, is one of the most coveted spots. Several high-end resorts are situated here, including Kukui’ula, a former sugar plantation that has been transformed into a lavish private club.
Anchored by a plantationstyle clubhouse, the community features a range of accommodations spread across rolling green terrain and an 18-hole golf course. A club membership at Kukui’ula costs US$50,000, while properties range from bungalows of around US$1.5 million to larger villas overlooking the fairway and ocean that start around US$4.2 million.
Recently, the developers enlisted leading architectural firms to design a handful of contemporary spec homes that may help to inspire potential builders. Seattle-based Olson Kundig Architects designed a four-bedroom 4,238 sq ft home with elevated garden pathways, outdoor showers and a sliding glass door in every room that let the verdant views in. The property, which overlooks a mango and papaya orchard and the cobalt sea in the distance, is offered at US$6.95 million.
On an adjacent lot, Dean
IN HAWAII, A FOCUS ON POLYNESIAN TRADITION IS CENTRAL TO ANY MARKETING PITCH.
property features five bedrooms, including two master suites and spacious outdoor living areas that encompass a lap pool and spa.
There’s a lot to see on Hawaii’s Big Island -- including active volcanoes and a range of hiking trails -- but residents at Kohanaiki may be tempted to stay put. In addition to the golf course, tennis courts, beachside restaurant and adventure club, the property is dotted with “comfort stations”, small air-conditioned huts stocked for every whim: frozen Mai Tai cocktails, fresh juices, sandwiches, ice cream, sunscreen, even lip balm and lens cleaner.
“They take good care of you here,” a plastic surgeon from Los Angeles tells me between sips of a frozen passion fruit cocktail. Like many members from America’s west coast, he spends a few weeks or up to a month at a time at Kohanaiki – only a handful of members call Kohanaiki home year-round.
Other members hail from Canada, Japan and Hong Kong. Asia is an important market for Hawaii, particularly Japan and Korea, though with direct flights now offered from Shanghai and Beijing, Chinese tourism is increasing.
Tomo Matsumoto, owner of Hapuna Realty who represents
"HAWAII OBVIOUSLY HAS A LOT OF GREAT THINGS TO OFFER. BUT WE'VE NEVER HAD AN URBAN CORE."
– Todd Apo, Howard Hughes