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What’s next for Wells Park?

County seeks public input as part of Wailuku town revitalization

Wells Park’s tennis courts are used by the Wailuku Junior Tennis Club, adult leagues and recreational players. Maui County officials have launched the master planning process for the Wailuku park, seeking input from members of the community about what features are wanted. The Wells Community Complex currently includes a 6.6-acre park, two pools, picnic areas, courts for tennis and basketball, and baseball and softball fields. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

A century-old park that’s hosted the fair, Richard Nixon and scores of tennis players young and old could be up for improvements in the future as the county works toward revitalizing Wailuku town.

Last week, the county kicked off the master planning process for Wells Park, hosting open houses Thursday and Saturday at the Wailuku Gymnasium to gather community input on the park. On colorful posters spread across the walls, residents — including elementary school students — jotted down suggestions, shared some of their best memories and placed stickers on features they wanted to see improved or added.

“Clearly the park has a role in the revitalization of Wailuku,” said project manager David Yamashita of the county Department of Parks and Recreation. “This (open house) really brings the park to life. This was the place to be. This was the center of life.”

The Wells Community Complex includes a 6.6-acre park, two pools, picnic areas and facilities for tennis, basketball, baseball and softball, according to the county’s website. The park sits adjacent to Iao Intermediate School and is bordered by Wells and Market streets.

Around the turn of the century, Wailuku Sugar Co. manager Charles B. Wells donated a free land lease to the Maui Athletic Association for the park, according to Maui News records. In 1901, the first game of baseball was played on the park’s diamond and, the following year, construction started on a grandstand at the park.

A damaged gate leads from Wells Park to Iao Intermediate School. Students at the school use the park every day for all kinds of sports, said physical education teacher Matt Birmingham. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

The venue has served as the setting for a number of historic events, including the first Maui County Fair in 1916. (A hiatus after the first fair and again during World War II are the reasons why this year’s event was only the 94th fair.) And on Aug. 4, 1960, then-presidential candidate Nixon made a campaign stop on Maui and spoke to a crowd estimated between 6,000 and 8,000 in Wells Park.

Throughout the years, it’s been the site of Labor Day parades, athletic tournaments and rallies. Now one of the biggest draws is the park’s seven tennis courts.

“There’s been a surge in the number of people playing tennis because of Wells Park,” said Wailuku resident Nikki Baysa, who goes there to play tennis with her son and husband. She added that she hoped to see more lighting at the park for people who want to walk their dogs at night.

Erin Wade, a Maui County small-town planner, said that the push to improve Wells Park is a combination of community requests and the ReWailuku project, an effort between the county and the Wailuku Community Association to revitalize businesses and facilities around town.

“In 2012, we started the ReWailuku process, and Wells Park was one of the key things people identified as something they’d like to see enhanced,” Wade said.

A broken concrete-block wall and cement steps separate Wells Park from parking along Wells Street. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Because ReWailuku is also a few months away from the design phase of a proposed parking and events facility, Wade said it “makes sense” to take a look at Wells Park at the same time.

“The two are supposed to complement each other,” she said. “We’d like it to have a consistent design aesthetic so Wailuku town doesn’t look like a mismatch of stuff.”

Wade said that “nothing (at the park) is going to disappear.” The county hopes to add features that will make it more accessible for people of all ages, such as an outdoor fitness station designed for people with balance issues. It all depends on what residents ask for, Wade said.

Mike Kinoshita, a longtime coach with the Wailuku Junior Tennis Club, said that he grew up playing tennis at the park in the late 1950s, and his sons played baseball and tennis in the park as well.

“You almost never see that place empty,” Kinoshita said. “There’s always someone practicing.”

Kinoshita called Wells Park’s tennis facilities “the most used courts in all of Maui” and said that the peeling surfaces could use some repairs.

In addition to the 50 to 60 children in the Wailuku Junior Tennis Club, there are several adult leagues that use the park throughout the year, and hundreds of kids from around the state who come to play in the Wailuku club’s tournaments, held at Wells Park and other tennis venues around the island.

Matt Birmingham, a physical education teacher at Iao School, said that he and his students use the park every day for all kinds of sports. With Old Wailuku Pool out of commission, the school hasn’t been able to teach swimming there for two years, he said. Along with the pool, he said he’d like to see certain safety issues addressed, such as cracks in the basketball court and dangerous spots along the fence. He also thinks the park could use additional shade, whether trees or permanent canopies.

“This is exciting, but we also want to make sure that they don’t forget about us when they’re planning to make changes,” Birmingham said.

Brianne Savage, deputy director of the Department of Parks and Recreation, said that the department will gather feedback, come up with a draft plan and return to the community to finalize it. The final master plan will be taken to the Maui County Council for funding.

“You have walls . . . that are broken, and we have a pool with no water and tennis courts that need repair,” Savage said. “We want to have a longer-term plan.”

Wade said that the county is working with planning-and-landscape architecture firm PBR Hawaii and hopes to have some concepts drawn up by early 2017.

For more information, visit wellsparkwailuku.wixsite.com/wellspark.

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