Everyone from architects to construction general contractors are turning away work because they already have more than they can handle, and one real estate agent even says war with Iraq won’t be enough to derail the island’s high-speed economy.
Construction activity and real-estate sales are fueling the current boom times, adding strength to the island’s tourism-based economy, many company owners said.
“Even war won’t stop” the flow of free-spending Mainland folks who see Kaua’i as a “refuge,” who are taking to the island’s friendly residents, said Edward J. “Ed” MacDowell, principal broker of Vision Properties in Kapa’a.
He doesn’t see an end to the boom that saw real-estate sales top the half-billion-dollar mark last year for the first time in Kaua’i history. The 1,485 sales worth $500,948,192 meant the average sale was over $336,700.
That fact backs up MacDowell’s educated perception that more people are coming to the island with the intention of buying a piece of paradise, are not very concerned with price, and love the fact that employees of county government offices like the Planning Department and Department of Public Works’ Building Division treat them with respect, and carry out their duties efficiently and in a friendly manner.
Agents at Vision Properties sold more parcels last year (131) than any other company, with a total value of nearly $31 million, according to statistics from the Kaua’i Board of Realtors.
“You know the economy’s good when the locals start building again,” said Bob Bentley, principal of Us Guys Builders, LLC (Limited Liability Company).
Bentley recently signed a contract with his Molokoa neighbor, a young local man with a young family getting an assist from his father toward the dream of home ownership. Bentley took the opportunity to applaud the young man for his willingness and ability to move forward with his home-ownership plans.
Originally, this story was to focus on what would happen on the island when the boom goes bust, but most of those interviewed for the story didn’t see a bust in the immediate future. Only uncertainty on the international stage could slow what’s happening here economically, Bentley said.
“No one knows what’s going to happen in a war.”
Turning immediately upbeat again, Bentley said low interest rates are encouraging folks to join the ranks of home-owners, something confirmed by brisk activity concerning new mortgage loans, and refinancing loans, reported by local banks.
Bentley also has to give credit to someone who doesn’t live on the island, but whose foresight has made possible the dream of home ownership for many choosing to build in Lihu’e. It was Sonny Okada, of O’ahu-based Okada Trucking and other entities, who purchased from Amfac what is fast becoming the Molokoa II neighborhood, creating inventory where today otherwise there would be little or none, Bentley explained.
“Everyone as far as I can gather is staying steady,” said Roy Takatsuki, of Roy Takatsuki Construction Services. He is also current president of the Contractors Association of Kaua’i.
“There’s work to be had. Yeah, it seems to be going strong,” he said of the construction boom. Construction subcontractors are very busy, too, something he knows firsthand by sometimes finding it difficult to get them to his jobs.
“You know, what might trigger a bust is war,” Takatsuki added.
Even with the island jumping with construction activity including a huge Home Depot site being prepared for building at Kukui Grove, the ongoing Kukui Grove Center renovations, Grove Farm finishing up the final eight holes and other amenities associated with its Puakea Golf Course, an assisted-living apartment complex in Puhi offering a year’s work to Shioi Construction scheduled to break ground Saturday, luxury condominiums being built at Princeville, single-family homes going up at Molokoa near Lihu’e Airport, continuing work at Marriott’s Waiohai Beach Club and sundry other small- and large-home projects across the island, though, there are still 65 journeymen and 12 apprentices belonging to the Carpenter’s Union Local 745 who are not working, a union spokeswoman confirmed.
The building boom has stretched the resources of local architects as well.
“I’ve been turning down work for a year and a half now,” said Palmer Hafdahl, AIA, owner and operator of Palm’s Hawai’i Architecture in the Lihu’e Plantation Building.
Hafdahl tends to agree with MacDowell and others that there seems to be no end in sight to the boom times. He predicts another two years of economic growth, barring war with Iraq, and added that even rising interest rates may work to provide an economic boost to the island economy by encouraging property owners to finish off projects even faster than they had originally planned.
His experience with clients who lost money in the stock market and took hits after Sept. 11, 2001 convince him that maybe only war will make people re-think their Kaua’i commitments.
“The last thing they were going to do is forget their dreams. We saw no drop from 9-1-1 on.”
For the last three years, all of the island’s architects have been booking projects, be they new construction or renovations, well in advance. It’s because Kaua’i is viewed as a “safe haven,” Hafdahl said.
Business Editor Paul C. Curtis can be reached at pcurtis@ pulitzer.net or 245-3681 (ext. 224).