Kukui Grove Center today…and tomorrow

LIHU’E – You can excuse Wade Lord, manager of Kukui Grove Center, for his enthusiasm about how well the mall will do once all $12 million of renovation construction work is finished.

See, total mall sales in 2001 jumped 6 percent from 2000, and sales last year were up 7 percent from the year before.

“In shopping center, that was a dramatic increase. Three percent is thought of as very good,” Lord said. Kukui Grove beat national and regional averages in terms of sales increases both years.

He would not reveal exact sales figures.

“That all happened during construction,” indicating to him that residents and other customers care about the center, like it, are loyal to it, and continued coming even with barricades, construction equipment sharing mall sidewalks with pedestrians, and the attendant noises of a construction zone.

In fact, the construction was turned into a draw, as the center’s management office was deluged with telephone calls from people asking about the status of the renovation work, he said.

Because of all the local interest, the barricades came down, and behind-the-scenes tours of the center were offered, and popular, he said.

Excitement is not reserved just for shoppers, as existing tenants express optimism for the mall’s commercial future during lease renewals, he said.

“Management and tenants have to have a partnership to make the mall a success. Owner commitment is important, too,” he said. “The tenants are appreciative of the effort to invigorate the mall and set the standard for the next few decades. All are committed to fixing up their stores, too,” he said.

This time next year, 98 percent of the renovation work will have been completed. Hopefully, that won’t drive away all the Bob the Builders who came because of the construction, not in spite of it.

There isn’t too much debate about whether or not the 21-year-old center needed some work. “Termite damage needed to be addressed,” and owner Steve Case decided to make a long-term commitment to the property, Lord said.

The island’s first Starbucks and Jamba Juice locations, plus Blockbuster Video and Cold Stone Creamery, are some of the confirmed new tenants.

Some existing tenants have to move to allow for more improvements, including the Kaua’i Products Store, Dollar Plus, Verizon Plus, Kaua’i Bakery & Cinnamon, and the center management office (for a second time).

Cold Stone Creamery, Verizon Plus, Kaua’i Bakery & Cinnamon and Kaua’i Products Store are among tenants to find permanent homes along the Puhi-side mall entrance near Star leading toward center stage, in spaces that have been renovated to accommodate them.

The opening of the entrance near Star is expected by the middle of this month, with the new shops along that walkway scheduled to open between April and July, he said.

Dollar Plus will be relocated to the former Paradise Fun site near center stage, as owners of the mall and Paradise Fun negotiated the closing of that entity, Lord said.

Negotiations are continuing with two food vendors, one interested in the former Joni-Hana Local Grinds location near center stage, and another wishing to open out of one of the newly renovated spaces along that walkway adjacent to Star.

Alpha Video will relocate away from the mall, said Lord.

The center’s leasing agent is in negotiations with a major retailer, which shall remain nameless for the time being, to move into the former JCPenney location now considered the mall’s indoor exhibition area. That is the single empty “anchor” space in the mall, with Sears Roebuck and Company, Macy’s, Longs Drug Stores and Star Markets the other large, or anchor, tenants.

A fourth phase of renovation construction could start as early as this week, as a general contractor is expected to be named tomorrow, Monday, March 3. That work will include more renovations on the Lihu’e side of the mall, and center-stage area, which will be totally covered from McDonald’s to Sears, with more seating, and wiring for sound and lighting. If all goes well, the work will be done by Thanksgiving, he said.

Permanent restrooms, and a final home for the management office, will be built out of sight, with a walkway access located near the former entrance to Paradise Fun. The back area will include changing rooms for mall entertainers.

Asked about the potential for a water feature, which is believed by some folks to encourage people to part with their hard-earned dollars, Lord said one is still under consideration, but not a priority at this point. Tenant relocation, and taking care of the termite damage, come first, he said.

“The leasing agents still have some work to do,” Lord said when asked if the center will be at 100 percent occupancy once the renovations are done.

Still, he is extremely upbeat about center prospects after the renovations are done and retail neighbors like Home Depot are open for business. He sees Kukui Grove and the “surrounding campus” as the regional shopping center of Kaua’i.

Home Depot will keep many Kaua’i do-it-yourselfers on the island, where now many have to travel to O’ahu to get their home-improvement needs met, said Lord. Keeping those dollars at home will be good for the island, and great for consumers, he said.

Home Depot’s arrival will also trigger increased lease and sales activity at Kukui Grove Village West, the area where Dynasty Court, Kaua’i Island Utility Cooperative are located, and Home Depot is under construction, he added.

Having national retail leaders open here sets the stage for next level of leasing, he commented. Activity at the mall, and surrounding it, has led to excitement among potential tenants as well as resident and visiting shoppers, he noted.

Ample parking near store entrances, and new mall entrances, will change the look and feel of the center, Lord said.

“The customers come first, and it’s our job to give customers the easiest access to stores,” he said about the “large parking fields” around the center. In fact, there is the potential for new construction of smaller shops later in the parking lot area between Macy’s and Burger King along Nawiliwili Road, as the mall has more parking than required by law for its size, he commented.

For added customer service, security escorts are available for those who would like safe delivery of themselves and their purchases to their vehicles, Lord said.

Business Editor Paul C. Curtis can be reached at pcurtis@pulitzer.net or 245-3681 (ext. 224).

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