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A much-anticipated Līhuʻe art center is taking shape in the former Kress building

Kress Building lihue art center mark gabbay

On Kauaʻi, work continued through the pandemic on a new art center at the corner of Rice and Kress streets in Līhuʻe. Project developer Mark Gabbay has plans for an exhibition and performance venue, a community workspace, and a fun place to eat.

Gabbay is the global CEO of LaSalle Investment Management, a real estate and private equity firm.

He's based in Hong Kong but has been a part-time resident of Kauaʻi since the early 2000s. Gabbay says art and passion for the creative process drew him to his partners in the planned art center.

They are longtime artist and arts organizer Carol Yotsuda, artist and gallerist Bruna Stude, and ceramic artist and arts agitator David Kuraoka. All are based on Kauaʻi.

Mark Gabbay on the Līhuʻe art center - Feb. 1, 2022

"Well, first of all, we're all friends. The genesis of that idea really came when Bruna and I and David were sort of talking about why the island didn't have kind of a community-based art center. And she had referred me this the study that the county did a few years back, a bit as a feasibility study about an art facility on the island," Gabbay told Hawaiʻi Public Radio.

In 2016, the old Kress building came up for sale.

"And I thought, you know, this building's a great piece of history, and it's a great place, place marker, and I should just try to buy it. And we'll, we'll figure it out later."

"Rice Street is happening," said ceramic artist David Kuraoka, who will be in charge of the first phase activation of the new art center in Līhuʻe.

He's creating a fully equipped community ceramic studio.

"We did put money out already. They have to now build some of those kilns. Shimpo wheels, the best wheels, are so back-ordered they say it will take eight months. All this will be gathered now, now that there's money put out," Kuraoka said.

kress building lihue art center rice street mock up
Rendering by Marc Ventura, AIA
Mark Gabbay
A rendering of the area showing the former Salvation Army/new Art Center in relation to planned block parties.

The venue encompasses 22,000 square feet, and Gabbay says the space will fall into roughly three areas. The creative hub of the project is the working studio at the back.

First, there will be a ceramics studio, then a print lab led by Bruna Stude. Equipment and facilities for these activities tend to attract both experienced artists and beginners. Both disciplines lend themselves to larger-scale production, as well.

Carol Yotsuda, who coordinates an annual live music series for the Garden Island Arts Council, will run the art center's pop-up event and performance space.

At the front of the building, inside the famous curved glass entry, Gabbay envisions an eatery of some kind.

"I'd love to bring the old diner back, if you have the old photos of what was in that building, it was a quintessential kind of 1940s, 1950s diner. So I think you could definitely do a lot of different food uses in the front," he said.

Gabbay says they've been calling the project D-2, for Dairy and Dime, because before the Salvation Army and Kress Store, the area was part of a dairy owned by the Rice family.

Permitting and construction are ongoing, with a possible opening in late 2022.

This interview aired on The Aloha Friday Conversation on Jan. 28, 2022. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1.

Noe Tanigawa covered art, culture and ideas for two decades at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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