Redevelopment of Wailuku town seen as a major opportunity

Viewpoint

Last week marked an exciting milestone for Wailuku town. After 25 years of effort by many town residents, employees and business and property owners, the improvement of town infrastructure that will enable Wailuku to regain the role as Maui center of commerce, entertainment, arts, dining and local-based retail is about to begin. Friday marked the signing of the initial construction contracts for the streetscape and utility improvements surrounding the Wailuku civic complex project.

This project has been in discussion and design for 25 years, with at least 50 public meetings held on it in Wailuku since the mid 1990s.

All of the many elements that constitute the civic complex were recommended in the last Wailuku-Kahului Community Plan, dated 2002 and based on input from the 1993 Citizens Advisory Committee. Here are some plan excerpts:

• The roadway system needs to be upgraded for current and future traffic needs. Major problems include the lack of alternate routes between Wailuku and Kahului, turning lanes, clear street signs and traffic signals at key intersections.

• Access for the elderly and persons with disabilities needs to be addressed.

• Pedestrian and bicycle access improvements were also cited as deficiencies.

• Parking was identified as a problem in the civic center and Wailuku business area.

• It was also noted that the region is too automobile-dependent and that alternative public mass transit needs to be considered.

The redevelopment of Wailuku town remains a major opportunity for the region. The Iao Theater, acquired by the county, serves as a link to Wailuku’s past and can become a greater asset for the community. The Wailuku municipal parking lot, which is centrally located in the heart of the town, is another prime opportunity for redevelopment. The development of a hotel to accommodate business travelers is also viewed as a potential opportunity for the town.

Place high priority on the planning, design and construction of a multilevel parking facility at the Wailuku municipal parking lot with potential opportunities for mixed use development, such as residential, commercial, park and other public uses.

Provide park and recreation areas as an integral part of project district specifications which will accommodate the needs of population growth.

Establish an additional government complex with adequate public parking in a central location.

Provide for a major regional multipurpose center for the planning district to accommodate resident needs for banquet and meeting facilities with adequate parking.

Support the revitalization of the Wailuku commercial core and adjacent areas by expanding the range of commercial services; improving circulation and parking; enhancing and maintaining the town’s existing character through the establishment of a Wailuku town design district; redevelopment of the municipal parking lot with emphasis on additional public parking; establishing urban design guidelines; and providing opportunities for new residential uses.

Improve Wailuku’s image and level of service as a commercial center for the region’s population. A combination of redevelopment and rehabilitation actions is necessary to meet the needs of a growing center.

Several previous efforts to add parking or otherwise redevelop the municipal lot failed because they did not take all of these points into account.

These same action items were mentioned time and again by participants in community meetings, charrettes, surveys and design sessions.

The civic complex project is not something new that has recently surfaced. It is an evolution of community wishes well thought out and distilled over decades, with input from over 2,000 Wailuku people.

The goal is to fulfill essential mundane needs such as parking, sidewalks, new pipes and revenue generators, plus vibrant gathering spaces in the center of a town that is walkable, vibrant, fun, clean, safe and convenient, and that is connected to Wailuku’s past. It will help to create a desire for affordable, efficient housing options in the core of town, and it will attract some of the tens of thousands of people who work in Wailuku who would enjoy living in a place that is convenient, healthy and fun.

* Jonathan Starr is a commercial property owner in the core of Wailuku and a board member of the Wailuku Community Association. He has spent 18 years as a volunteer serving on major boards and commissions, including as chair of the Maui Planning Commission and member of the Maui Board of Water Supply and Hawaii State Commission on Water Resource Management.

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