No takers for Wainaku Executive Center


By COLIN M. STEWART

Tribune-Herald staff writer

It is one of East Hawaii's prime properties, with beautiful views of Hilo Bay, easy access to Mamalahoa Highway, its own black sand beach and koa wood interiors.

But even after trimming the asking price by $1 million, listing agents for C. Brewer & Co.'s former Hilo headquarters have yet to find a buyer.

The Wainaku Executive Center, located about a half mile north of Hilo's "Singing Bridge," makai of Mamalahoa Highway, has been co-listed since early November 2010 through MacArthur & Co. Sotheby's International Realty and CBRE. When it first went on the market, its asking price was $9.5 million, but the property's website, wainakuexecutivecenter.epropertysites.com, currently lists it at $8.5 million.

According to real estate agent Carol Van Camp, stagnant financing remains a barrier to the sale of the property.

"We've had quite a few people interested," she said. "But financing is their biggest challenge. ... It's been much more difficult, for even the best commercial investors that you might find. The financing market has gotten a lot more conservative.

"It's going to eventually come down to the credentials of a prospective buyer. We've just got to find the right match," she added.

The 11.7-acre property and 11,809-square-foot building have been marketed by owner D. Buyers Enterprises LLC as a possible site for a hotel or resort.

C. Brewer, one of the state's "Big Five" sugar cane corporations, relocated its headquarters to the former Hilo Sugar Mill site in the late 1990s. After the company's dissolution in 2001, CEO John W.A. "Doc" Buyers purchased the property with the intention of turning the property into an upscale resort. He hired architects to draw up preliminary plans for a resort, said D. Buyers Enterprises manager Haidee Kanakanui, but failed to have the property rezoned before his death in 2006. It is currently zoned as general industrial (MG-1).

The property is being sold, Kanakanui said, as part of the liquidation of D. Buyers Enterprises, controlled by Buyers' widow, Elizabeth Lindsey Buyers, and the D. Buyers Liquidating Trust.

While it has been on the market, the building has housed a number of different tenants, including the University of Hawaii at Hilo's College of Pharmacy. The college is currently spread among various temporary sites but has plans for a $55 million building, once it secures funding.

The College of Pharmacy leased office space at the Wainaku Center until September, when an addition to its interim modular facility near the 'Imiloa Astronomy Center was complete. Even so, about 17 employees, including Dean John Pezzuto and former Chancellor Rose Tseng, are currently located in the county's annex building, as "there is not sufficient space for us to leave the county annex," said Pezzuto. "We need the permanent facility."

Meanwhile, although some tenants remain in the Wainaku Center, the remaining spaces are hard to fill because of the pending sale, Van Camp said.

"A good share of the office space on the first floor is being leased, and although there is still some space on the second floor, because the building is for sale any leasing would be short term," she said. "That could be a limitation."

Email Colin M. Stewart at cstewart@hawaiitribune-herald.com.