WAILUKU - The county's second and final phase of a multimillion-dollar plan to revitalize Wailuku town's once-bustling main thoroughfare North Market Street is now under way.
And as with the initial phase - and many old downtown-revitalization projects across the nation - this part, too, has its enthusiastic supporters and apparently just as many critics.
With $2.6 million in federal stimulus dollars, contractors will rebuild North Market Street from Kahawai Street (at the Iao Stream bridge) to Mokuhau Road (at the former T.K. Supermarket and today's Restore building). That doesn't sound like much, but people in this core neighborhood, which has a rich blue-collar history and still-lively streets, said any changes will alter its authentic look and feel.
The Maui News / AMANDA COWAN photo
A damaged section of Market Street is visible near Takamiya Market on Saturday.
Prep work started Jan. 16 on a project expected to be complete by 2011 New Year's Day, said consultant Yuki Lei Sugimura.
The county previously rankled some business owners and shoppers with its handling of the first phase of the North Market Street improvements, between Wells and Kahawai streets. Parking was lost and business interrupted.
Community leaders have worked for years to revitalize Wailuku, and adding new sidewalks, curbs, streetlights, trees and asphalt is key to that effort, county Public Works Director Milton Arakawa and others have said. The Maui Redevelopment Agency and Wailuku Main Street Association have led recent efforts to replace storefronts and roads and add restaurants, a gas station and a health clinic.
Although some windows have darkened due to the economic climate, an extensive building renovation continues just up Vineyard Street.
Some business owners in the immediate area, including Lance Takamiya, general manger of Takamiya Market, 359 N. Market St., said it just isn't practical to go through so much money and effort to try to make Happy Valley into a tourist destination.
He said it's much more important that he not lose almost one-third of his parking spots.
"The sad thing is that we are putting all this money into this place, and it won't really help the businesses," said Bryan Funai, who has owned Keystone II Autobody and Painting, 350 N. Market St., for 27 years and rents a parking lot to the grocer.
"To me, it's just a waste of money," he said. "But they told us if they don't use it (the federal dollars), they will lose it."
County Council Member Mike Victorino called the project very positive for the Happy Valley neighborhood. Unlike upper Market Street, lower Market Street is filled with empty lots and housing as well as existing businesses. The lights and sidewalks and new turn lane and crosswalk, rain drainage and bus stops will all make the neighborhood safer and easier to get around, Victorino said.
Happy Valley residents, many of whom live in subsidized apartments, deserve an attractive neighborhood as much as anyone else, he said. Victorino also pointed out that the area is home to some of the island's only hostels.
"It will also make the neighborhood more appealing and hopefully give some people the idea to, 'Hey, we should build here, bring my business here,' " he said.
It will also create 28 new construction jobs, Victorino said. Victorino said he is still working with the engineers to try to find a compromise so Takamiya Market isn't hurt.
Everyone wants to know whether Phase II will impact Takamiya Market, Sugimura said. They are trying to accommodate it as much as possible while at the same time operating within the federal guidelines needed in order to receive the money, such as complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act, she said.
Takamiya Market, whose sashimi platters are so popular during the holidays that a traffic cop is stationed in front of the store to manage crowds, has 21 parking spots spread out over a few areas and will lose six due to the construction, Takamiya said.
That includes the two spots right out front, in order to widen the sidewalk and create a turn lane, Victorino said.
"Business is down (because of the economy), but I would still say my number-one problem at the store is not enough parking," Takamiya said. "So how can this really help me at all?"
His customers are mostly neighborhood people, downtown workers grabbing takeout and construction workers who stop by pau hana for a six-pack and poke.
In the past, business owners have been vocal about other road and waterline projects on Market and Vineyard streets, which disrupted traffic and resulted in almost a two dozen lost parking spaces and a narrower street. Unlike Phase I, Phase II will not remove the diagonal parking from Market Street, Sugimura said.
Victorino said that while there are business owners still upset about Phase I, many have come around and enjoy the change.
Construction by Goodfellow Bros. will have to be done during the day Mondays through Fridays. But a lane of traffic will be kept open, Sugimura said.
The first phase took $6.4 million and 16 months to complete.
The second phase qualified for American Recovery and Reinvestment Act dollars because it was "shovel ready," Sugimura said - and that's because they had to stop where they did because they'd run out of money when they finished Phase I in April, she said.
She applauded the work already done by Goodfellow Bros., which includes pulling abandoned cars out of a ditch that runs parallel to the project, Sugimura said.
Community leaders have been trying to redevelop Wailuku town for decades, as businesses left for the new shopping centers in Kahului and elsewhere, according to the county's 2000 Wailuku Redevelopment Plan.
"The thing that gets me is that this is being done without listening to us really. Who are these people?" Funai said. "Who is the Maui Redevelopment Agency? It's like someone else coming into your house and moving around all the furniture and telling you it's much better this way."
From the beginning of the 20th century through the 1940s, Wailuku was the Valley Isle's bustling center of commerce. According to the redevelopment plan, it was frequented by plantation employees and a "chop suey" of races and cultures and contained a variety of street dances, fish markets "and lots of children."
However, by 1967, the county had designated Wailuku as "blighted," and 75 percent of the buildings were considered substandard, according to the report.
Bit by bit, things are changing for the better in Wailuku town, plan proponents said. For instance, the landscape, design and beautification project now under way also includes a multimillion-dollar plan to build a parking structure, an old plan that also has recently finally received county funding.
"We try our best," Sugimura said. "We think it's really worthwhile. People have told us the fact that we are fixing up the neighborhood has warmed their hearts. They told us, 'Thank goodness because we have always been the forgotten ones.' "
* Chris Hamilton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*This story contains a correction from the original published on January 31, 2010. An incorrect title for the Maui Redevelopment Agency was used. The Maui News apologizes for the error.