Plans are under way to renovate the Lahaina Center on Front Street into Maui's first outlet shopping center by next summer.
The 10 existing buildings at 900 Front St. will be remodeled starting in November to turn the 11-acre site into The Outlets of Maui.
With a new look and national retail brands, the project's developers hope to turn around the center's historically low occupancy rate and attract more shoppers to the tail-end of Front Street.
New Jersey visitors Alan and Lauren Zenreich stroll through the deserted Lahaina Center on Wednesday afternoon. Plans call for renovating the center into The Outlets of Maui, the island’s first outlet shopping center.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
In the center is a sculpture titled “Hawaiian Lady of Lahaina Center” by Lou Benatto Jr. The sculpture, hand-carved on the site in 1993, was part of a previous attempt to reinvent of the hard-luck commercial property.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
The center, which was built in 1989, will maintain a "Lahaina-esque" feel, said Dan Jordan, principal of Honolulu Builders, the general contractor for the project.
"We don't want to change the character of the historically sensitive area," he said.
Dan Shiraki, project superintendent for Honolulu Builders, added: "We're retaining the historic nature of that complex, we're not tearing any buildings down or doing any expansions."
"We're making the buildings a little more architecturally interesting with different colors, more glass, and greening up the interior to make it more inviting," Shiraki said, noting that the existing buildings are "all rubber-stamped and monotone."
Jordan said the center is currently only 30 to 40 percent leased.
He said the existing center's anchor tenants, Hard Rock Cafe, Ruth's Chris Steak House and Hilo Hattie, will remain at the center, as well as the Warren and Annabelle's Magic Show venue. It's unclear when the other tenants will vacate.
The Florida-based agent handling leasing for the outlet center declined to discuss possible tenants.
But Shiraki said he believes the outlet center will be "similar to Waikele in its tenant mix," referring to the Waikele Premium Outlets in West Oahu, currently Hawaii's only outlet mall. Tenants there include Banana Republic, Calvin Klein, Coach, Guess, Levi's, Michael Kors, Polo Ralph Lauren and Saks Fifth Avenue Off 5th.
Shiraki said outlet stores are especially attractive to shoppers now, given the economic downturn.
"This is one appendage of Front Street that hasn't done well. A lot of tenants can't make a go of it," he said. "With the new mix of tenants - where people can get brand name stuff at outlet prices - we're hopeful that will draw shoppers in."
The remodeling plan for The Outlets of Maui was recently approved by the Maui Planning Department. Shiraki said the Lahaina Restoration Foundation was consulted on the project since it's located in a historic district, as defined by county ordinance.
Work will start with the two-story building where the former David Paul's Island Grill restaurant was located.
"The plan is to begin construction around November, and we have to do one building at a time, so every few weeks, we'll be submitting new applications for building permits," Jordan said. "It'll be a waterfall effect from there, and we hope to finish in mid-summer 2013."
He said the project will employ approximately 50 workers, including subcontractors, for about 10 months.
The property is owned by the Weinberg Foundation Inc., which also owns the neighboring Old Lahaina Center - home to Longhi's Restaurant and Foodland Super Market.
Jordan said the outlet project is being funded by The Outlets of Maui LLC, a group of local and Mainland investors, which has signed a long-term land lease for the center.
Pomare Properties - a former branch of Hilo Hattie - developed the $15 million Lahaina Center in the late 1980s, but in 1991, the company reassigned its 55-year lease interest on the property back to Weinberg, according to published reports. Pomare Ltd. does business as Hilo Hattie.
Another outlet shopping center is in the works in South Maui by Eclipse Development Group of California.
Plans there call for a 300,000-square-foot outlet center called the Maui Outlets on 30 acres. Eclipse plans to a build a second shopping center, Piilani Promenade, on a 45-acre parcel. Project officials have said retail and restaurant tenants at the centers would be new to the island.
But the timeline for opening the Kihei centers is unclear because the landowners face an ongoing legal challenge before the state Land Use Commission brought by opponents of the developments.
The commission will hold a "show cause" hearing Nov. 1 and 2, which will require the landowner to prove it has not violated conditions imposed on the property in 1995 when the LUC granted a land reclassification from agricultural to urban.
Charlie Jencks, project liaison for the Piilani centers, said the developers are hopeful work can soon move ahead on the outlet center.
"The Piilani Promenade Outlet Center continues to enjoy strong interest, and we look forward to a successful resolution of matters before the (state Land Use Commission), and continuing to serve the people Maui with the creation of a wonderful shopping experience."
* Nanea Kalani can be reached at email@example.com.