By Nina Wu

Lau Hala Shops, the new retail center that takes the place of the former Macy’s in Kailua, has opened its doors for business, symbolizing Alexander & Baldwin’s vision for its commercial holdings in the beach town.

The 52,000-square-foot building at 573 Kailua Road has been transformed by A&B into a new mix of restaurants and shops that used to house the department store. In place of the department store, which closed two years ago, are 10 leasable spaces ranging from 800 to 20,000 square feet each.

Visitors entering the main lobby from the parking lot will see a large staircase that leads up to BJ Penn’s UFC Gym, which opened its doors on the second floor in mid-November. On the ground floor, chef Roy Yamaguchi’s Goen Dining + Bar, with open-air seating, began serving the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, and is now open for lunch and dinner.

Maui Brewing Co. is expected to open a restaurant, which is under construction on the Kailua Road side of the retail center, sometime in December. Natural grocer Down to Earth also plans to relocate to the shops, filling out a sizable 15,000 square feet, from its current location on Hamakua Drive, in the middle of next year.

Honolulu-based architect AHL, formerly Architects Hawaii, added windows to the lobby and second floor, opening it up, and softened the exterior with the addition of wood-toned screens. Some of the original, white-painted brickwork, however, remains, along with Macy’s elevator — the first to be installed in Kailua in 1960 — as a nod to the building’s history.

Gone, however, is the escalator that once connected Macy’s first and second floors.

“When we decided to redevelop the old Macy’s building in Kailua, it was important to us to ensure the project would respect the history of the area, be designed with sustainability in mind and enhance the surrounding community,” said A&B spokesman Darren Pai. “Kailua is a vibrant community, with its own unique charm and character. Our hope is Lau Hala Shops will serve as a gathering place for Kailua families to enjoy for years to come.”

Earlier this week Kailua artist Leanna Wolff added the finishing touches to four panel paintings she was commissioned to create — a serene, local-inspired underwater scene incorporating marine debris gathered from Kalama shores — on the rear wall of the main lobby area, which offers two spacious restrooms.

The lighting elements on the panels play off of the pendant lights hanging down from the high ceiling, adjacent to the steps leading to UFC Gym, which is bustling with new members.

At a beach cleanup Wolff organized at Kalama earlier this year, people gathered some of the debris that is featured in the paintings and wrote down some of their thoughts, all of which is incorporated into the artwork. Wolff usually includes microplastics into her signature waves and seascapes, but this time was able to put in larger pieces, as well as beach sand, because of the scale of the panels, which measure 8 feet wide by 3-1/2 feet tall each.

Upon closer examination, what looks like a rocky shoreline framing the ocean is actually a plastic toothbrush, fish float, toy soldier, toy gun and slippers.

“I thought about how I could involve the community in this piece,” she said. “That was really important to me because I feel this is a piece that’s going to stand here for decades, and I want people to have a connection to it.”

On the wall by the entrance to the lobby hangs a set of decorative ironwork featuring the “LH” initials from a railing by the original developer Liberty House to pay homage to the building’s 65-year history. They stand for Liberty House as well as Lau Hala Shops. On the other wall are patterned wood doors that originally hung on Macy’s second floor.

Outside of the building, a curved promenade features walkways made from rock salt-stamped concrete, planters with seating areas, a bike rack and a water fountain with a refill station and special drinking bowl for dogs.

A&B Properties, which owns 90 percent of the retail buildings in Kailua, began construction on Lau Hala Shops in February 2017, describing it as “a new gathering place” with a mix of restaurants, retailers and services focused on lifestyle and wellness. A&B described the creation of Lau Hala Shops as “the first phase of A&B’s long-term vision for its Kailua Town holdings, which seeks to redevelop thoughtfully and responsibly the A&B-owned properties within the commercial core of Kailua.”

The existing Macy’s building had good bones to work with, according to AHL President and CEO Bettina Mehnert, and architects aimed to preserve its Modernist lines.

“It’s a good example of how the architecture is trying to embrace the building’s history,” she said. “This is the best way to be sustainable: You keep what’s there and you update it. … We still have the bones of the building, and we have some sort of emotional connection to it, but now it has new life.”

Kailua resident Jim Driscoll said he welcomed more dining options in town, and he’s signed up for the UFC Gym, which is within walking distance. Being new to the area, he admitted having no memory or nostalgia for what was there before.

Kawika Ringler of Kaneohe, on the other hand, recalls what Kailua was like when he grew up there from the ’60s to the ’80s. He used to shop and eat at the restaurant at Liberty House, and remembers a dairy farm at the site of the current Target store. Kailua had few tourists then, he said.

While he might visit Lau Hala Shops from time to time, Ringler said much of Kailua is now for tourists.

In its third-quarter earnings report, A&B said the center was 89 percent leased as of Sept. 30, with more than half of the shops opening at year’s end.

The building was home to Liberty House, which opened its doors in 1946, then became Macy’s in 2001. The Macy’s store in Kailua had a 15-year run before closing in 2016.

Many of the improvements to the former Macy’s building were focused on sustainability, according to A&B, which installed energy-efficient lighting, water fixtures and environmental control systems.

Harley-Davidson, which was earlier announced as a tenant, will no longer be opening a boutique there. A few spaces still remain for lease along the lane across from Ulta Beauty, which just opened its doors in October in a space formerly occupied by Pier 1 Imports.

The new Down to Earth in Kailua, meanwhile, will be more than double the size of its current 6,000-square-foot store along Hamakua Drive, and is just a short walk from its competitor Whole Foods Market. It will offer a mezzanine, expanded deli and grab-and-go food, including pizzas, cold-pressed juices, sandwiches and soups.

Originally published in The Star Advertiser