During Wailuku Civic Complex debate, stakeholders debate ‘revitalization’

A recent rendering of the Wailuku civic complex

“Wailuku is dead. It could was the rallying cry of those who testified in support of the Wailuku Civic Complex at the March 29 meeting of the Maui County Council Economic Development and Budget Committee. The main suspect in the death of this historic city? Well, it remains a mystery with several suspects. But supporters of the complex have made it clear that the $ 84.2 million project represents the best chance for Wailuku’s resuscitation.

As supporters of the costliest item in the county’s budget for fiscal 2019 took turns justifying its price tag by calling Wailuku “dying,” “decaying,” “broken,” and “non-functional,” critics expressed dissatisfaction with the cost of the project, the perceived lack of community contribution and potential impact.

Testimony during the one-day committee meeting revolved around a single agenda item: a decision by EDB committee chair, board member Keani Rawlins-Fernandez (Moloka’i) from fund the Wailuku Civic Complex. With the project’s first phase of over $ 40 million cleared for bonds and slated to launch this summer, Rawlins-Fernandez has offered to cut project funds to around $ 13 million, just enough for improvements to the project. off-site infrastructure already contracted, which includes upgrading water and sewer lines, storm sewers, underground utilities and road surfacing in the surrounding area. Under this proposal, construction of Phase 1B of the Wailuku Civic Complex, the parking structure, would be halted and hacked from the previous budget.

At the end of the day, the proposal failed by a 3 to 5 vote, with only freshmen of the board, Rawlins-Fernandez, Tamara Paltin and Shane Sinenci, supporting the funding of the complex. City councilor Tasha Kama (Kahului) was not present.

Despite the roundabout coming to the status quo, the meeting illuminated community sentiment regarding the controversial multi-million dollar project and stimulated discussion of ‘revitalization,’ a buzzword that remains loosely defined. .

For commercial landowners, this meant turning Wailuku into a destination.

With the full construction of the Civic Complex, the city could be a “place where the people of Maui gather and we go to dinner, we go for the arts, and also retail,” said Jonathan Starr, a longtime supporter. project date and landowner of several commercial plots in the city of Wailuku.

“Wailuku needs a reason for people to come and a reason for people to stay,” echoed Kristin Holmes, who owns a commercial property and business at the corner of Vineyard and Church Streets. “I personally think that the creation of an arts and culture district would create a basis for the post-5[pm] crowd.”

This rhetoric has bristled some residents of Wailuku.

“One of the things I read a lot on Rewailuku.org is that they want to attract tourists; they want the area to look like Kihei, Lahaina and Pa’ia, and – to be honest – it’s just appalling, ”said one Wailuku resident. “It’s a place where local citizens go. We don’t necessarily want an influx of tourists to this region.

For others, “revitalization” is less about realizing a grand visitor-centric vision and more about solving Wailuku’s more immediate issues, like parking and vacant space.

“You go over there and look at these businesses that are boarded up and shut down – the town of Wailuku is dying,” said Lawrence Kauha’aha’a, who runs the Wailuku Clean and Safe program that maintains the Market district. Street. “For me, it’s as easy as creating more parking.

Saedene Ota, co-owner of the now-closed Market Street business Maui Thing, compiled a list of small businesses and restaurants in Wailuku that have moved or closed in the past 10 years. “Small businesses need the support not only of a large parking lot, but also of an anchor center like the civic center,” she added.

Likewise, Richard Dan, a business owner on Market Street, said the lack of parking led to Wailuku’s decline. “The garage will save this town, save this community. This will only help us, ”he concluded.

But others wondered if parking was really the culprit behind the retail vacations, and if development really is the adrenaline rush the city needs.

“[Vacancies are] kind of a problem in Maui in general, ”said one Wailuku resident. “Everywhere, it is in difficulty. Everywhere there are vacancies.

“Something else is killing retail, something else is killing businesses,” agreed Sean Housman, pastor of Calvary Chapel in Wailuku. “I know Maui Mall, you can go: Whole Foods is doing fine, but you go around the corner, it’s full of empty stores, and there’s plenty of parking. You walk down Dairy Road: there are malls packed, full of parking lots, empty stores. You get off at the Queen Ka’ahumanu Center: lots of parking, empty shops.

For these community members, revitalization efforts would be better focused on basic county functions.

“NPR says the state of Hawaii is coming up with a D-plus for infrastructure, which doesn’t surprise me,” said Colleen Rohozinski, Wailuku resident and longtime business owner, who described a homeless camp in the area and a time when she personally had to direct traffic after a water main break.

“I am more concerned about the needs of our community,” Witness Nalani Kaninau said. “I think we have had development in abundance and I do not know who benefits from this economic development. Our village is leaving en masse because they cannot afford to live here.

However, as County Director General Sandy Baz said after the committee’s deliberations began, such issues cannot be resolved by simply redirecting funds that have been authorized for the Wailuku Civic Complex.

“Each authorization to issue bonds for a project is an individual authorization,” he said. “So if this project, the bail bond wasn’t available, then we just couldn’t borrow the money. It does not necessarily mean that the money is available for something else; you would have to allocate new money for these purposes.

In addition, the administration argued, the loan of over $ 80 million is an investment in economic development that will pay off and more.

“My strategy to support the Wailuku Civic Complex is to generate income through economic development; and there are few opportunities with a better return on investment than downtown revitalization, ”Mayor Michael Victorino said in written testimony supporting the funding of the project.

It was based on projections that the complex will finance its maintenance and increase its income through a combination of paid parking, paid spaces for vendors and – mainly – tax revenue from increasing the value of buildings. properties in the surrounding area.

Board member Rawlins-Fernandez noted that Victorino‘s This position could put the county in the position of having to support further development of the area in order to recoup the investment. She asked Erin Wade, the senior planner of the municipal complex, if the community knew that last April‘s Analysis of fiscal and economic impacts of the Wailuku Civic Complex included the construction of hotels as part of its economic projections.

Wade could not answer the question, but replied, “I know that has been part of the analysis from the start and that is really the whole point of downtown economic revitalization: encouraging and create value for properties that are significantly distressed and undervalued, which is the situation today.

Rising property values ​​is a “revitalization” that board member Riki Hokama can support. The veteran board member recalled the 1960s and 1970s when land tax revenues from Wailuku and Kahului funded development in South and West Maui. Today, “West Maui is the number one district; South Maui is district number two – the only two districts that have positive real estate tax cash flows, ”he said.

“I’m grateful that my district brings in a lot of income for the county,” responded Tamara Paltin of West Maui, but then checked off the issues that have arisen in her district as a result of the growth, including traffic issues, the injection wells, lack of affordable housing and longtime residents “rejected by commercial distributors”.

“That’s not all we claim to be, to be the revenue generator for the county,” she said. “Sometimes you feel like you’re a pimp, so to speak.”

The comment touched on the implicit questions of the day: What does “revitalization” really mean? Who does it benefit from? And is it real revitalization if some benefit while others lose?

Until these issues are explicitly addressed, expect the battle to continue.

What would the revitalization of Wailuku and Maui look like for you? On Thursday, April 4, Maui County will hold a public question and answer session on the Wailuku Civic Complex in the boardroom of the Kalana O Maui (County) Building at 5 p.m.

[This story is part of MauiTime’s Changing Maui: Wailuku Civic Complex series. The series examines the Wailuku Civic Complex project and the changes it will bring to Wailuku Town.]

Image courtesy of County Maui

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