Wailuku town businesses are looking to spread their wings

WAILUKU – Uptown Chevron and the Maui Academy of Performing Arts are planning to expand their services in Wailuku, backed by residents eager to revitalize the life and economy of the town.

The academy is in the process of purchasing the 36,000-square-foot Main Street Promenade to provide for more classes and eventually add a 250-seat theater.

Meanwhile, Uptown Chevron, a combination gas station, restaurant and convenience store, has drawn up plans for a 1,200-square-foot expansion that will switch its identity from gas station to restaurant, said owner Alvin Makimoto.

“My desire was always, if we could, to stay in Wailuku,” MAPA Executive and Artistic Director David Johnston said Thursday night during a Wailuku Community Association meeting. “We believe strongly in the potential of Wailuku. There’s a synergy now that’s happening in Wailuku that’s so exciting.”

MAPA began as an after-school drama program in 1974. It serves more than 25,000 children, teens and adults through programs that include live theater and performing arts residencies.

The academy is currently housed in a building down the street from the Main Street Promenade. Demand has grown for classes and the 13,000-square-foot structure is bursting at the seams, Johnston said. The academy considered leasing extra space for its studios, but after calculating that it would cost $125,000 to $150,000 a year, the board begin searching for other options. A “serendipitous series of events” led them to the Promenade. The academy put on offer on the building and is currently in escrow.

To cover the $6 million to purchase the building, the academy is applying for a U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development loan. MAPA officials said they planned to keep the restaurants and businesses in the building – many of which are family owned – intact. Money from the leases could be used to pay for the loan, Johnston said.

“We can do this in a very responsible way and a very financially smart way,” he said, adding that so far “all of the signs say keep going forward.”

MAPA Board President Virgie Cantorna added that the expansion will help local businesses as well. Students already “flock” to the gas station for snacks after classes, Cantorna said. Parents dropping off their kids, and families attending evening shows look for places to eat dinner, shop or hang out.

“I want you to picture us helping Wailuku be like a small Front Street or a small Paia town, just really active day and night,” Cantorna said.

Johnston added that most classes take place in the mid-afternoon and that parking often clears up around that time, though one resident disagreed. For the most part, however, the community was supportive, liking the idea of a revamped arts district and having more attractions “after hours.”

Wailuku Community Association President Ashley Takitani Leahey said that the board was fully behind the project.

Johnston said the academy would be notified of whether it received the loan around August or September. He estimated it could take about five to seven years to complete the move and renovations. In the meantime, the academy will operate out of both buildings.

Uptown Chevron’s plans for expansion are also in response to public demand, Makimoto said. The restaurant currently offers takeout for breakfast and lunch, but people have been asking for a place to sit and eat. Uptown Chevron has plans to expand toward the performing arts academy’s current building, with 1,200 square feet of additional space for seating, dry storage and refrigeration.

The change would put more focus on the restaurant and make overall operations more efficient, Makimoto said.

His father first opened the family’s gas station business in 1953 and eventually moved it to the location of the old Grand Hotel. Along with gas, they provided towing services and rental cars. Makimoto’s father, however, predicted that one day the business would “sell a lot of coffee and newspapers.”

The restaurant currently serves local favorites like mochiko chicken, pork adobo and beef curry. The expanded eatery would be a family establishment and no liquor would be served, Makimoto said.

While the expansion would take away a lane that drivers use to access Church Street, he added that the 20 parking stalls included in the plans would make up for it.

“We’re one of the few projects that will provide additional parking,” he said.

Makimoto estimated that the project would cost about $800,000 to $900,000. Uptown Chevron will be applying for permits from the county within the next month, with construction slated to start in late 2017.

Wallette Pellegrino, who was born and raised in Wailuku, was excited about the town’s direction but reminded residents not to let its history get eclipsed.

“Wailuku isn’t unique only because we have some really interesting businesses,” she said. “We have to remember the wonderful stories of this place.”

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.

* This article includes a correction from the original published on Friday, June 24, 2016. Virgie Cantorna’s name was misspelled. She is the Maui Academy of Performing Arts board president. The Maui News apologizes for the error.