Oahu groups against condo conversions

HONOLULU – Union and community members are protesting the conversion of hotel rooms into condominiums.

Paola Rodelas, a spokeswoman for Hawaii labor organization Local 5, said that condo conversions are popular with developers, who can profit quickly from the sale of the converted units. But conversions lead to job losses because people typically don’t have the same expectations for service at residential condominiums, condotels and time shares that they do for hotels.

Local 5 and members of the AiKea Movement say condo conversions contributed to the loss of 3,250 accommodations jobs statewide between 2006 and 2010. Since 2007, they have cost the state more than $30 million in annual tax revenues, the groups say.

“When jobs are lost to conversions, the state has less money to fund education, public improvements and the social services that our local working families depend on,” Rodelas said.

But Waikiki Improvement Association President Rick Egged said the conversions help Hawaii remain competitive by providing the capital to upgrade aging hotel units.

“Time shares also provide higher occupancy than standard hotel units and provide higher average visitor spending. The Hawaii visitor benefits from a mix of product on the market,” Egged said.

Local 5 and AiKea members plan to rally in front of the Ilikai Hotel on Wednesday.

Rodelas said the circa-1964 hotel is a poster child for industry job losses due to conversions.

In its heyday the Ilikai employed 750 union workers. However, jobs were cut as hotel rooms were eliminated in various sales. Now, there are about 63 union workers at the hotel, which over the years has shrunk to about 200 rooms from about 800.

In recent times the union has been battling against a plan by New York-based iStar Financial Inc. to sell off the Ilikai’s remaining hotel rooms as condominiums.