Charlie Buckingham – A&B Properties’ Man in Kahului
By Susan Halas
In 1998 Charlie Buckingham was working his way up in Los Angeles commercial real estate when he was referred for a job at A&B Properties on Maui.
In the big city the USC graduate specialized in industrial properties. But when he landed the job in Kahului he found himself director of commercial leasing for A&B’s “Kahului-centric” portfolio. He estimates that covers about 600,000 square feet of retail, office and industrial space for Maui’s largest land owner, most of it located in central Maui.
Buckingham, 47, recalled when he first heard about the position “it intrigued me. I knew a little bit about the company, and thought it was an interesting opportunity. I didn’t really comprehend what a large part A&B plays in Hawaii and where it stood in the community.”
Now, more than a decade later, Buckingham finds the most interesting parts of his job are the “opportunities for entrepreneurial growth inside a large corporation.”
One project that came quickly to mind was shepherding the improvements to a 17,000 square feet portion of the old Woolworth’s spot in the Maui Mall, which was remodeled to become the Maui County Resource Center. The building now houses many key county functions such as the Department of Motor Vehicles and the County’s Real Property division. His assignment included hiring the architect, construction management and keeping the contractors on schedule.
How much did he know when he took it on? “Well, I knew enough to be dangerous,” he acknowledged.
A similar challenge came up in 2009-2010 when Buckingham coordinated not only the leasing but also creating the physical shell for Whole Foods, when the national chain took over the old Star Market space in the Maui Mall.
Buckingham was involved with the negotiating process, which he said took three or four years. He also had a hand in coordinating the actual improvements including new store front, loading zone, landscaping, and parking. Altogether he estimated the design, permitting and construction took about a year. “We delivered a shell and they did the build out – fixtures, finishes, lighting and equipment.”
About the same time, A&B also undertook improvements to the public space at the Maui Mall, including a new water feature in front of the theater, new furniture and other upgrades to the common areas. “A mall is not a stagnant space,” he said. “You have to upgrade to keep it current. It’s not just about the stores, it’s the whole experience, touch, feel, color, lighting and landscaping.”
“The Maui Mall is changing,” he continued. “Whole Foods is one of the top retailers in the country both in terms of experience and brand.” And perhaps as a result of their presence, “overall the mall is seeing an uptick in activity.”
Specifically he pointed to the Subway sandwich shop located there, calling it “one of the top performing Subway outlets in the state.” He also mentioned the new Hawaiian Island Creations store located near the Whole Foods entrance. The clothing retailer, which opened in December, is “exceeding expectations,” he said, adding that “the foot traffic generated by Whole Foods is significant.”
Buckingham said A&B doesn’t focus all its effort at the high end. “We like to bring in new business and create opportunities for start-ups. One start-up that’s just getting underway is Chriss (sic) Auction House which recently opened in the former Fun Factory location at the rear of the Kahului Shopping Center. “I think it’s a first for Maui, he said.”
In his non-working hours Buckingham likes to surf and windsurf. He lives in Haiku with his wife Gloria and their three children ages 11, 9 and 5. He’s active in his children’s school, the Cardin Academy in Kula, where he is a member of the board.
“All my kids were born here; I like the diversity of Maui.” An Angelino no longer, he pointed out, “I’m still here. This is home.”