The Wailuku Parking Garage and Civic Complex project, with an estimated cost of $84.2 million, is the biggest number in the county’s FY2019 budget. The first phase of the project is set to begin mid-year. If fully funded, it will create a “super block” on the two-acre county municipal parking site which currently offers 214 spaces of free parking (see map, next page).
As the time approaches to break ground, the project has become controversial. Advocates say it will be an economic driver for the area while opponents call it an expensive, low-priority project designed to develop the town for the enrichment of a few.
Many who spoke with MauiTime are in the middle. They feel that they do not have enough information about what is planned, which could include changes to the zoning code that would raise the height limit from four to six stories, modify the parking code to increase the size of stalls, and add paid parking to Wailuku.
Riki Hokama is a prominent supporter. He has referred to the project as his “legacy” and a “regional economic driver.” He is confident it will bring tourism and hotels to Wailuku and make it more like Pa‘ia and Lahaina. Hokama, a longtime Maui County councilmember and former chair of the Budget and Finance Committee, advocated for $40 million in funding during the FY2019 budget sessions, and then supported efforts for an additional $40 million in funding which was appropriated (but must still be authorized). If the additional sum is authorized by the new council, the total bonds authorized for this project would rise to more than $80 million (see graph, next page).
Also in favor is Realtor Carol Ball, who chaired the Maui Redevelopment Agency until March 2018. The MRA is a county board which oversees the planning, zoning, and parking for the 60-plus acre core of Wailuku Town. In 2017, Ball wrote in support of the project, “the complex will bring energy to the adjacent businesses and the entire Wailuku commercial sector to develop, improve and reinvent; bringing life and vitality once again to Wailuku town.”
Other staunch supporters include Jonathan Starr and Helen Nielsen who own most of two blocks along Main St. between Market St. and Central Ave. Property tax records show the transfer of four of five of these properties to Main & Market LLC (see map, #23 and #24). Starr said he created Main & Market LLC to separate the property from his other holdings on the Big Island. Starr has expressed an interest in redeveloping his properties.
“It is time to recreate the town center and build a sense of place,” Starr said in an email. “[This] will be a very appreciated and transformative combination to get Wailuku and Maui residents out on the streets and active in our town.”
Erin Wade has been the primary contact for this project for many years. She joined the County of Maui as a senior planner in 2006, and was designated “Small Town Planner” in 2008. According to her LinkedIn bio she is “currently on special assignment with the Mayor’s Office assisting in the redevelopment efforts of Wailuku, spearheading the reWailuku planning movement, and staffing the Maui Redevelopment Agency.” Its website can be found at reWailuku.com.
“I think it’s a winner for Wailuku,” said David Dwyer, owner of three parcels of property off Vineyard St. (see map, #19) which will benefit directly from the estimated $10 million of offsite improvements including sewers, storm drains, and electrical upgrades that will be installed in the first phase of construction. Dwyer added that although the construction phase might be “disruptive… once it is done it will be a big plus.”
Megan Kanekoa, owner of the Wailuku Coffee Company on Market St., is also a backer of the plan. Kanekoa said she is “pretty familiar with the project” and thought that creating more parking was a “good idea.” A business owner for 11 years, she leases from the Aluli Trust. She felt comfortable with the proposed construction, saying “it is a clear vision and plan.” As for the timeline, which could slow business in Wailuku for two years or more, she said that she expected her popular gathering spot would pick up business from workers on the construction site.
Others are opposed or undecided on the project. Some, such as a religious leader and private residents, requested anonymity. The thing they have in common is they live in and work in Wailuku Town. Rather than rejuvenate the town, they expressed concern the project would “super size” and negatively alter the town’s character. They also said that proposed code changes pave the way to add hotels in the area.
According to several, the town is already improving. They pointed to the $5-million purchase of commercial property by the Maui Academy of Performing Arts on Main, to the new Kamehameha Schools administrative center now open on Market, and the large Tamura’s grocery scheduled soon to open in the Millyard as examples of positive economic growth.
Those opposed said this project is not a priority for Maui, citing the more affordable homes and rentals as Maui’s top need. There is not a single unit of housing in this costly project. Some echoed the sentiments given by a testifier at the council’s Dec. 27 meeting: He called it an “overblown monstrosity… It’s money unwisely spent for things we don’t want.”
Some mentioned that it focuses on the commercial side, ignoring the impact to residential properties, and predicted gentrification would bring raised rents and displacement of current Wailuku area residents.
A few observed that the publicly financed off-site improvements are beneficial to a handful of property owners, some of whom have vigorously lobbied for this venture. Several thought the construction would create massive traffic jams for two years or longer and be detrimental to their businesses.
Proposals are on the table to offer tax abatements to owners who build new commercial structures. Few incentives are available to those who renovate or who would suffer hardship during the construction phase. Nothing is available to the owners of residential properties.
Some, like Council Chair Kelly King, questioned the project’s return on investment, saying she has yet to see a business plan. Some mentioned that significant cost overruns and delays are the signature of large government-funded projects in Hawai‘i, and that even $84 million was likely to be a lowball figure.
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The majority of those who spoke with MauiTime were somewhere in the middle. Most approved of offsite improvements like upgrades to drains, sewers, electrical, roads, and sidewalks, saying these improvements were long overdue. Consensus ended there.
Most said they didn’t know enough; they had no comprehensive idea of what was coming or the impact. Few knew of the projected costs or that construction would shutter Wailuku for two years or more. The county council has yet to host a full-scale, nighttime (so working members of the public can attend) detailed review of the entire project as it would be built, including the proposed related changes to zoning and parking codes.
“Wailuku is perfect just the way it is… and getting better,” said Stephanie Ohigashi. She was supportive, but unsure about the details. A native of Wailuku and a former chair of the MRA, she and her husband own a building on Main St.
Ohigashi thought the town’s difficulties with street safety, individuals in need of mental health support, and homelessness were all more immediate and less costly concerns that need prompt action. She reiterated that she wanted to see increased parking and to encourage a lively night scene, but she wanted to see the Wailuku Clean and Safe program (a program that links houseless individuals to jobs and support services) expanded first.
Additionally, she emphasized the importance of “in-depth due diligence.” How would this plan dovetail with other things in the works at the state and county? How would it impact residents? How would it fit with new developments being planned just a few miles down the road in Waikapu where everything would be new and up to code, Ohigashi asked. She wasn’t against the project, but she had many unanswered questions.
State Rep.Troy Hashimoto (D-Dist. 8), whose district includes Wailuku, had similar questions: How would this fit in with the future plans of the State Judiciary? Would the expensive new parking structure really provide enough parking to meet community needs or would the county still need to build its own parking structure as well? Were the civic center, retail space, and plaza really the best use of public funds?
Hashimoto acknowledged that during the 2018 campaign the Wailuku Civic Center was rarely mentioned as a priority (affordable housing, however, was). What is state’s role in the financing and what would state money (if authorized) be used for, he wondered.
He said he had not yet discussed the matter with Mayor Mike Victorino. Victorino was unavailable for comment.
Newly elected Councilmember Alice Lee (Wailuku-Waihe‘e-Waikapu) knew that a major project was in the works, but was unfamiliar with the details of the plan. She definitely thought housing was Maui’s top priority. “For me,” she said, “learning about this [redevelopment project] is on the front burner.”
Nane Aluli, a trustee of the Aluli Trust which owns almost a whole block on Market St. (see map, #13), said he was only dimly aware of the parking structure. He knew nothing of the civic center proposal and had no knowledge of the costs or timetable, nor had he been consulted at any point in the planning process.
Likewise, Sean Housman, pastor of the Calvary Chapel (a Christian congregation of about 350 members; see map, #14) was also not sure how he felt about the plan. Housman recently learned that his flock would be expected to vacate the church because site work might begin as early as the end of 2019.
The pastor said his church had hosted several meetings of the MRA and thought he was up to speed on the plans, so the news came as “a total shock.” Housman said he was not necessarily against the project but he needed to know a lot more, including how his congregation could be forced out.
The Dec. 27 special council meeting in council chambers during the daytime between Christmas and New Year’s also drew comment. At this meeting an additional $40 million in funds was appropriated by lawmakers.
“That meeting seemed strange,” said a Wailuku resident who is active in a local religious organization. “It didn’t seem like [the council] listened to the testimony or that they wanted the public to know what was going on. They just rammed it through, 5-0… I agreed with those who requested [the council host] a full public hearing in the evening that would be convenient for our town. I’m not sure of where I stand on the project,” he said. “That’s a huge amount of money and I have a lot of unanswered questions.”
Artist rendering of the complex courtesy of County of Maui.
Cover and infographic design by Darris Hurst