Many years ago, the County of Maui used eminent domain to raze a small neighborhood of houses in Wailuku between Market and Vineyard Streets to make way for a public 208-stall parking lot. More than adequate to meet Wailuku Town parking needs, the lot has recently taken on an almost frantic importance to those wanting a “catalyst for economic revitalization” in Wailuku.
Representing both intense hopes and withering nightmares, the lot has somehow become the most controversial part of town. Ironically, nearly every private developer or local merchant involved in the debate agrees on what to do with the lot: replace it with a giant parking structure holding at least 450 but preferably 700 stalls. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen any time soon.
Parking in Wailuku Town these days is tough (Note: Maui Time Weekly recently began renting an office next to the lot in question). Most street parking is limited to two hours, which Maui Police Officer Keith Taguma relentlessly patrols in his little meter maid cart. The public lot, with its rows of cracked and unstriped but still precious 12-hour stalls, understandably fills by 8 a.m.
In the old days, the county would simply identify that Wailuku’s current size and population demands at least a couple hundred more parking stalls, put out a request for bids to build a garage and appropriate the necessary millions of dollars to build the thing. But today, in this era when government is loathe to spend money, the Maui Redevelopment Agency (MRA) is looking for a way to reverse the principle.
Seeing the structure as a potential engine of growth, the MRA recently put out a Request for Proposals (RFP) to private developers. Two came back—one from the Blue Hawai’i Realty hui and another from a partnership of Agora Realty and Prudential Iwado Realty—offering massive structures linked to condos, shops and big retail stores.
The advantages were compelling: all the commercial and residential development would make the project free to the county—which would give up ownership of the land, though—and Wailuku would get plenty of new growth that would further increase local property values as well as bring in new business to nearby merchants.
“We feel it’s important to have people here after 5 p.m.,” bidder Steve Bronstein of the Blue Hawai’i Realty hui told the Wailuku Community Association during its June 21, 2006 meeting at the Good Shepherd Church.
But the idea of turning a free, unregulated public parking lot into a privately held and gated parking structure in which everyone would have to pay for parking made local merchants nervous. Citing everything from concerns over parking availability to increased traffic caused by all the new development, the WCA ended up voting against recommending any of the proposals to the MRA.
For its part, the MRA actually agreed. Well, kind of. Citing the original eminent domain action that built the lot in the first place as well as the community’s queasiness with giving up such a valuable piece of public land, MRA Vice Chairman Lloyd Poelman said during the panel’s June 26, 2006 hearing that, “whoever has control over that lot has the moral obligation to do what’s best for the public’s interest.”
But then the panel voted to table the whole matter to their July 21 hearing. Worried that the Maui County Council—though apparently wanting to retain ownership of the lot—would balk at spending $10 million or so on a new parking garage, the MRA members wanted to hear a more detailed discussion of a potential public-private partnership between the County or them and a private developer.
As anyone who parks in Wailuku Town knows, there’s nothing easy about finding a place to park. MTW