The pandemic has cost the Hawaii Tourism Authority more than half of its budget and all of its public appropriations for the foreseeable future.
But that hasn’t stopped HTA’s board of directors from agreeing to invest an additional $250,000 in the Center for Hawaiian Music and Dance, a long-awaited project that has been fraught with difficulties since lawmakers in the government ordered its launch more than ten years ago.
HTA President and CEO John De Fries said the award was to explore “the development of a virtual concept that would make Hawaiian music, dance, related stories and cultural storytelling accessible to the world. in line. Essentially, this approach takes (the center) into the digital world and would complete a “bricks and mortar” concept, as originally envisioned.
HTA’s cultural director, Kalani Kaanaana, recommended the latest appropriation of the Hawaiian center, which was approved by the agency’s board of directors at its Dec. 17 meeting. This was part of the nearly $1.7 million FY2021 HTA budget approved for Hawaiian culture, compared to nearly $8.1 million for FY2020.
Overall, HTA has reduced its FY2021 budget to $41 million from nearly $87 million for FY2020. It is also lower than the $48 million approved for FY2021 before only Governor David Ige refuses to allow HTA to add about $5. million in emergency funds to its pandemic budget.
Kaanaana, who inherited the Hawaiian center project when he joined HTA, has been trying for several years to evaluate sites that might be a better fit than the roof of the Hawai’i Convention Center. Before Kaanaana’s time, HTA paid over $800,000 for consultancy work to create a Hawaiian music and dance center at the convention center only to find the state couldn’t afford the $98 million dollars it would cost to build it.
State Senator Donna Mercado Kim (D-Kapalama, Alewa, Fort Shafter), who championed the project when she was Senate Speaker, said the idea was to give residents a reason to come to Waikiki and to offer visitors a cultural activity. . Kim did not return a call from the Honolulu Star-Advertiser for comment, but in the past he had been open to tweaking the scope of the project.
Kaanaana canceled a December 18 interview with the Star-Advertiser and instead asked to answer questions via email, which he later declined to answer because the project was in its early stages. However, Kaanaana provided an update to the HTA board on December 17.
“We faced a lot of challenges in different ways to get something off the ground,” he told the board at the Dec. 17 meeting. “Recognizing the realities that museums, in general, are struggling to stay operational even before COVID, a physical structure may not be the best way to implement it.”
Kaanaana said a “virtual structure” would be easier to maintain and could reach a wider audience.
“Think of something more like a video game and less like a 2D web page…it’s more interactive” and could be associated with the GoHawaii app that (the Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau) reviews and uses technologies like than augmented reality.
“Before the trip, they could learn and access the site as a resource,” Kaanaana said. “Then when they’re actually here and, say, they pass the Royal Hawaiian hotel and the song starts playing and it comes up with, you know, hotel information and so on.”
Kaanaana said a virtual museum would be a way to “stay true to what the commission originally envisioned – that it was not just a museum to preserve in a showcase the history of music and dance here in Hawaii, but that he would also support the vision of it being a living and thriving practice.
The virtual effort could help the long-awaited Center for Hawaiian Music and Dance move forward. Like many other projects in Hawaii, it is behind schedule and over budget.
Kaanaana had considered moving the cultural center to the Bishop Museum. He previously told lawmakers the revised plan would cost around $25 million. But so far lawmakers have not approved a location change and the project has continued to drag on, while some $6.2 million has accumulated in a state-created museum fund.
In 2007, lawmakers appropriated $80,000 for a feasibility study for the Center for Hawaiian Music and Dance. Since 2013, the legislature has ordered HTA to set aside $1 million a year to fund the operations of the future center, for which a budget was never set.
In 2014, under former HTA President and CEO Mike McCartney (now Director of the State Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism), a contract for a business plan and a design study was awarded to WCIT Architecture and subcontractor DTL Hawaii for more than 10 times what the legislature had allocated.
In 2015, WCIT delivered a $98 million plan that recommended the construction of a 40,000 square foot energy-efficient Hawaiian Center, as well as outdoor space for outdoor seating with a performance stage and a hula space. WCIT’s plan stated that a nonprofit board of directors should be created to raise private funds to cover the balance of funds needed to open and operate the Hawaiian Center beyond the annual allocation. of $1 million set by lawmakers in 2013.
There has been little progress beyond the costly planning phase after more than a decade of lockdowns. The delays even exacerbated the cost of repairing the Convention Center’s rooftop terrace since maintenance was postponed to allow repairs to be completed at the same time as the Center for Hawaiian Music and Dance.
Proponents of the project would like to see it finally move forward, fulfilling an HTA requirement to perpetuate and preserve Hawaiian culture. Still, it’s unclear whether spending an extra $250,000 to explore a change that hasn’t even been approved by lawmakers will garner widespread support.
“Now is neither the time nor the place,” said State Senator Glenn Wakai, chairman of the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Tourism and Technology.
Wakai said the money would be better spent helping HTA through the pandemic.
“I told them how they spend, they’re going to be gone by next June and they don’t seem to understand the urgency of what’s ahead of them,” he said.
Wakai said HTA’s transitional housing tax credits have been stopped since April and “even if TAT comes back, there’s no guarantee the governor will give it back to them.”
“At the moment, nothing is going into their coffers and they are spending as if they were not in crisis,” he said. “They will have to save more money to survive.”
HTA’s vice president of finance, Marc Togashi, said that after the charges are removed, HTA has only $18 million in prior funds available for its fiscal year 2021 budget.
With tourism down sharply and not expected to return soon, Wakai said he was puzzled that HTA had not cut staff or at least hours, especially for those handling marketing contracts for markets. sources that are not in the current budget.
“Somehow they don’t see themselves having to cut their payroll. If they were running a business and everything was down 90%, they would cut expenses, but it’s not HTA,” he said.
Wakai said he supports HTA’s quest to be reimbursed from CARES Act funds for expenses incurred to assist the state in Safe Travels Hawaii. In June, De Fries sought reimbursement of $3.3 million from Ige for airport assistance, call center, hotel for heroes program, self-help web application. traveler reporting and data processing, and supplies.
“Following the Board’s adoption of HTA’s revised FY21 budget, any additional expenditures would be subject to Board review and approval, including the reimbursement of $3.3 million COVID-related expenses,” De Fries said.
However, Wakai opposes HTA’s request to add its $5 million emergency fund to its current budget. He is also against spending more money on the museum.
“The emergency fund is there to cover certain catastrophic events like chartering planes after 9/11 because there were no flights. It’s not for general operations like payroll,” Wakai said, “We’ve already wasted a lot of money on this museum. Now they want to spend $250,000 on a hula game. I don’t see how that’s going to bring more people to Hawaii.”