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Wailuku complex makes cut, roundabout doesn’t

The county is planning to turn the Wailuku Municipal Parking Lot with its 214 parking stalls into a multistory parking structure and three-story building for stores, county offices and special events. More than $80 million is in the budget for next fiscal year for the Wailuku civic complex. This photo was taken Wednesday. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

The project with the heftiest price tag — the $81.2 million Wailuku civic complex — made the cut in Budget and Finance Chairman Riki Hokama’s proposed budget, though other projects like the Maui Lani roundabout got the ax.

Hokama expressed support for the complex Monday, which he believed would help bring an economic boost to a town with “tremendous historical value.”

“My proposal supports efforts to revitalize Wailuku town to preserve its prominent place in our communities, historical as well as where it stands in its prominence currently,” Hokama said.

However, council members planned to revisit both the complex and the roundabout as they continued to wade through hundreds of budget items Wednesday.

Plans for the Wailuku Civic Complex call for building a multistory parking structure and a three-story building for retail stores, county offices and special events. The proposed complex would replace the Wailuku municipal parking lot, which has 214 parking stalls that are often filled by county and state workers and local businesses.

Parking at the civic complex would depend on the size — a four-story parking structure could accommodate 360 parking stalls, while a five-story structure would offer 460 stalls.

Some support the project, saying it could attract new businesses and bring much-needed parking. Others believe the project is far too large and too costly.

Kristin Holmes, vice president of the Wailuku Community Association and a member of the project advisory committee, said she’s “110 percent for it.”

“Wailuku is a town with lots of potential, and now we have an opportunity to express that potential,” said Holmes, who owns the building on North Church Street that includes her own business, Swan Interiors, as well as Loft 145 and Obenauf Law Group.

Holmes’ family has owned the building since the 1930s, and Holmes said not much has changed economically in the past 50 years.

She said she believes the proposed complex has been “well vetted” and takes into account community needs by providing things like an events space with a catering kitchen and public meeting room, and a central courtyard for performances and gatherings. She said the complex would bring more qualified workers to the area.

“You want to create a place to give people a reason to come and give people a reason to stay,” Holmes said.

But resident Susan Halas, who’s lived in Wailuku for more than 40 years, said she thinks the $81.2 million could be spent elsewhere.

“I’m happy they’re paying attention to Wailuku,” she said. “What I’m unhappy about is the scale of it and the price tag, and that it isn’t really in line with what our real priorities as a community are. Our real priorities as a community are affordable housing, improvement of our infrastructure, the homeless.”

Halas said the town is growing just fine on its own. She pointed to recently opened restaurants like Umi, which is “busy every single night of the week” and new places like Mystery Maui, an escape room adventure a block away from Umi. In December 2016, the Maui Academy of Performing Arts purchased the Main Street Promenade for $5.75 million, with plans to renovate the space for a theater and rehearsal studios.

“Wailuku is really turning the corner under its own power, and at the right scale,” said Halas, adding that there’s “no groundswell of people” calling for a parking garage.

Business owners were receptive to the project. Teri Edmonds has run If the Shoe Fits on Market Street for 17 years. She said she thinks the proposed complex will attract new shops and restaurants and increase property values.

“I think it’ll make the town look newer,” Edmonds said. “I think that it will give incentive for these landlords that haven’t fixed up their places to fix them up. And I’m hoping that it does bring more parking.”

Edmonds said Wailuku storefronts will still be able to maintain the town’s historic character. She’s leaving her longtime Wailuku location on June 30 for a space next to Goodwill on Alamaha Street, where she’ll have more parking and be “closer to everything.”

Coleen D’Avignon, who’s lived in Wailuku for 15 years, opened Art on Market last April, one of several businesses to debut within the past year. She said she also likes the proposed civic complex.

“I’m for whatever’s going to make it more beautiful,” D’Avignon said. “I think it will bring more recognition of the arts. I think it will definitely bring more focus into Wailuku.”

D’Avignon said she sees a “renaissance” happening in Wailuku with all of the new businesses and restaurants, though the small town feel remains the same. And while the proposed complex could attract more visitors, she said the additional parking and events space will mostly benefit the community.

Meanwhile, Hokama also cut funding for a roundabout at the intersection of Maui Lani Parkway and Kamehameha Avenue. The mayor had included $3.4 million in his budget for the roundabout; Hokama reduced it by about $1.5 million and proposed traffic signals instead.

Roundabout supporter Laksmi Abraham is holding out hope that the council will revive the project. Abraham said a stoplight may help the situation, but studies favor roundabouts, which cost less to maintain and are touted as safer by many agencies, including the U.S. Department of Transportation.

A stoplight “is good, but it’s not the best, and we should be looking for the best, especially when we’re talking about a community that’s connected to a school that has kids crossing through this intersection on a regular basis,” said Abraham, who is the community program manager for the Blue Zones Project in Central Maui.

Roundabouts reduce crashes in which people are seriously hurt or killed by 78 to 82 percent, according to the department’s website.

“Visually roundabouts encourage cars to slow down . . . because there is a visual impairment right in front of them versus when you drive through an intersection,” Abraham said.

Some people have concerns that the intersection is too small for a roundabout, but the county Department of Public Works has said it would be large enough to handle normal traffic, buses and firetrucks.

“We are hopeful the balance of the council will put back a roundabout,” Public Works Director David Goode said Wednesday. “In our studies for this intersection, the roundabout reduces traffic backup better than a signal system and is proven to be safer for pedestrians and vehicles.”

Hokama and other council members could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

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