Shane Nelson
Shane Nelson

For years, visitors staying in Waikiki have likely noticed a significant contrast between the legendary tourism district's two major thoroughfares: Kalakaua Avenue and Kuhio Avenue.

The parallel streets are both named in honor of prominent members of the Hawaiian royal family, but Kalakaua is closest to the ocean, running along the beach at times as it travels toward iconic Diamond Head, and the bustling one-way is home for most of Waikiki's beachfront hotels. Kuhio, meanwhile, is a couple of blocks removed from the Pacific though it too houses a wide array of hotels, shopping and restaurants.

Kalakaua, however, has undergone a dramatic transformation in the past decade, one started back when Outrigger Enterprises began work on the $460 million Waikiki Beach Walk project in 2005. The avenue has since been lined with glitzy luxury retailers and restaurants as many of its prominent hotels and resorts have undergone major renovations.   

Kuhio, on the other hand, hasn't seen that same type of redevelopment investment, leaving a stark difference for those walking along its narrower sidewalks versus time spent strolling on Kalakaua's wide pedestrian paths, lined now with bright storefronts.

No doubt spurred, at least in part, by Waikiki's soaring hotel occupancy rates and climbing average daily rate (ADR) figures in recent years, investors and developers now appear to be turning their focus to Kuhio, as a collection of new hotel brands have announced intentions to renovate older properties along the avenue.

The $475 million redevelopment of the International Market Place in Waikiki, a 4.5-acre high-end shopping and dining facility sitting between Kalakaua and Kuhio scheduled to open Aug. 25, has also likely helped investors feel more confident about the district's second largest street. The market place's anchor tenant, Hawaii's first Saks Fifth Avenue, will front Kuhio Avenue not Kalakaua.

Jack Richards, the president and CEO of Pleasant Holidays, said a revitalization of Kuhio Avenue is important for Waikiki, and "I think it was all spurred by the International Market Place."

Richards discussed an impressive list of redeveloped hotels planned for Kuhio, including the recently opened Hilton Garden Inn Waikiki Beach, a $115 million renovation of the former Ohana Waikiki West hotel, that sits right across the street from the International Market Place. Others planned for Kuhio include a 230-room Hyatt Centric and a Marriott Autograph Collection property at the 250-room Aqua Waikiki Wave hotel. And people shouldn't forget the newly opened Ritz-Carlton Residences Waikiki Beach, a 307-unit luxury condo hotel, also sits on Kuhio Avenue.

"Other hotels, if they haven't renovated, are going to have to step up to plate and do it," Richards said. "It's good for the market. It's good for the operators, and I think overall it's good for Hawaii."


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