Project aims to improve Lahaina’s harbor front

After nine months of hosting public discussion meetings and working with county planners, the Lahaina Restoration Foundation is putting the finishing touches on a number of community-based projects to improve the Lahaina harbor front.

The IMAGINE project, sponsored by a $50,000 grant from the county Planning Department, began in August as a series of community meetings to brainstorm ideas as to how to improve, beautify and recognize the myriad cultural and historical sites in Lahaina’s harbor front area. The grant gave the foundation the means to hire two planning consultants, who helped the community draft a list of proposed projects around the area.

The list includes ideas like restoring King Kamehameha III’s taro patch, beautifying the harbor loading dock, creating pedestrian walkways on Canal Street and adding old Hawaiian street names to existing street signs.

“From the harbor to Front Street . . . was an important historical and cultural site area that had become degraded, so we went to the community and asked if they wanted to improve it. They said yes,” said Theo Morrison, executive director of the Lahaina Restoration Foundation.

The foundation hosted more than 10 meetings that were open to anyone to attend. Morrison said about 20 to 30 people attended each meeting, with a core group of about 10 “regulars.”

One of the “regulars” was Lahaina resident Keeaumoku Kapu, who heads Aha Moku o Maui, a governing entity that protects Native Hawaiian rights and culture.

“Lahaina was the first capital of the kingdom, where a lot of things actually started,” said Kapu. “Kamehameha III wrote the first constitution in Lahaina. Proclamations came out from Lahaina that make Hawaii what it is today.”

Kapu stressed the importance of not just beautifying the town or making the harbor more accessible for visitors but to focus on honoring historical sites and traditions, like the king’s taro patch, that are critical to Hawaiian culture.

“Kamehameha (III) actually stood and labored in this taro patch to prove to his people he could feed the next generation. . . . We have to make sure we don’t forget about the past,” said Kapu.

The lighthouse at the end of the harbor is another site that some say doesn’t get the attention it deserves.

“Though it isn’t the original structure built by Kamehameha III, it’s in the same spot. . . . It serves the same function (he) wanted it to. . . . It tells the story of Lahaina, but it’s blocked by cars a lot of times so no one sees or acknowledges it,” said Morrison.

One of the ideas in the draft proposes to bring more attention to the lighthouse by creating a path toward it and beautifying the surrounding area.

In March, the Lahaina Restoration Foundation secured another grant from the county for $18,000 to host a “Celebrate Historic Lahaina” event to commemorate the completion of the IMAGINE project, as well as the grand opening of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Museum and Orientation at the Old Lahaina Courthouse. The event will be held Aug. 24.

“I’ve seen that small improvements can make a big difference,” said Michele McLean, deputy director of the county Planning Department. “We realized how many people use that area and how underappreciated those historic sites are. Without a whole lot of effort or money, those sites can be improved and made meaningful.”

While the planning phase is nearly complete, Morrison said before any project is implemented, there will be more opportunities for public discussion and input. She stressed the importance of “totally transparent, open” discussion before proceeding with any project.

* Eileen Chao can be reached at