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Rent Could Double for Downtown Art Center

Downtown Art Center Noe.jpg
Noe Tanigawa

Honolulu’s Downtown Art Center has been gaining momentum since the 10,000-square-foot space opened in October. In fact, shows are booked into next year, but now there's a hitch—the center is facing a possibly crippling rent hike.

Two months ago, Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi toured the Downtown Art Center on the second floor of Chinatown Gateway Plaza at Nu'uanu and Hotel streets. The city owns the space, and when it was made available to the art center last year, volunteers reclaimed the space—trashing dividers, rerouting electrical trunk lines and air conditioning ducts, and redoing walls and floors to create a pristine 4,000-square-foot gallery.

Downtown Art Center
Noe Tanigawa
Left to Right: Councilmember Carol Fukunaga, Senator Karl Rhoads, DAC Executive Director Sandy Pohl, Senator Sharon Moriwake and Representative Daniel Holt

Blangiardi voiced early support for a HEART concept to revitalize Chinatown—Heritage, Arts, Entertainment, Restaurants, and Theaters.

"Our agreement with the city is through August," said Sandy Pohl, Executive Director of the Downtown Art Center. "And we were informed they are considering doubling our rent."

Currently, the center pays $11,000 per month to the city. That's electricity, air conditioning, and common area maintenance for 10,000 square feet. A handful of arts partners rent office space, and the gallery operates as a rental. No salaries are paid.

"We're booked solid the whole year. I think we have two months in 2022," Pohl said.

Pohl says there has been no negotiation with the city about the rent increase.

"Basically they came and they told us what they wanted us to pay. We are trying to make arrangements to negotiate that," she said. "What I think is reprehensible is this property had been empty for years."

Artist Faye Yamaguchi Downtown Art Center
Noe Tanigawa
Artist Faye Yamaguchi with her bears at the Downtown Art Center

Tim Choy is a long-time collector and observer of the local art scene. He is helping to direct community funds toward efforts like traditional ethnic arts for kids and showings of contemporary art that are happening at the art center.

"Artists themselves are beginning to feel empowered and people who are acquiring art are beginning to enjoy buying local artists' works," Choy said.

The Hawai'i Watercolor Association is scheduled to show in September, the first month of the proposed $22,000 rent. Hawai'i Craftsmen are scheduled right after that.

"Our gameplay was, we needed to establish ourselves to make this a happening and that there's a real need for it. So we're right now at that crossroads where we have to stabilize the Downtown Art Center," said Pohl.

With rent set to double on Sept. 1, the Downtown Art Center is trying to close its funding gap—more information at

On Wednesday, city officials said they are open to negotiations.

Alex Kozlov, director of the Department of Design and Construction released a statement saying, "The City understands and appreciates what the Downtown Art Center has done for the community and will continue to work with the leadership to actively promote art in the Chinatown/Downtown neighborhoods.”

“The Department of Land Management, the Mayor’s Office of Culture and the Arts, and the Department of Design and Construction are working with the DAC to provide a practical financial arrangement for the Center, while balancing the fairness to other competing art galleries in the area. We are continuing to work with DAC with the community’s interests in mind,” he continued.

Hawaiʻi Public Radio will continue to follow this story and we’ll bring you updates as they become available.

Updated: July 14, 2021 at 5:30 PM HST
Wednesday, July 14, 2021 - Hawaiʻi Public Radio added new comments from the City and County of Honolulu.
Noe Tanigawa covers art, culture and ideas for Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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