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Former mayor looks to get bowling alley plans rolling

Project officials seek $2M investment to kickstart longtime dream

The site of the former Safeway store in Kahului may once again become an active hub if plans for a Central Maui bowling alley are successful. This photo was taken in October 2019. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Project officials are seeking a $2 million investment to get the ball rolling on a proposed bowling center in Kahului, a longtime dream of former Maui County Mayor Charmaine Tavares and an ongoing request from the community.

Since 2002, including her time on the Maui County Council, Tavares has been researching, advocating, visiting potential sites and viewing seminars and conferences in order to jumpstart the Maui Lanes and Family Fun Center dream, which has a total price tag of about $10 million to $15 million.

“We have to have this, there’s nothing like it here,” said Tavares, a consultant on the project. “It’s been my passion for two decades and it will continue to be. I’m all in.”

The location being considered for the bowling alley is the former Safeway on Kamehameha Avenue in Kahului. The goal is to install at least 20 lanes to meet the minimum requirement to host sanctioned tournaments, Tavares said.

In the project’s later phases, she envisions the center having an arcade, bumper cars, a semiprivate event room, party spaces, a restaurant, a sports bar and snack bar, catering services, a gift shop and pro shop, and other areas for entertainers.

Tavares

She added that entertainment spaces might also include hosting puppet shows, balloon animal making and storytelling for children’s activities.

“The main idea behind this concept is to provide a variety of components that would encourage families in the community to come and play,” Tavares said Thursday. “A place where families and individuals could enjoy some fun activities.”

The only other bowling alley in the Valley Isle with automatic mechanized pinsetters is the 74-year-old Maui Bowling Center in Wailuku, which had only been open to league play with 10 lanes.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, certain plans and operations for the center “will need to be designed differently than what was envisioned years ago,” Tavares acknowledged.

For now, bowling is the main focus before the other amenities since the activity can be easily adapted to meet current health and safety protocols, like social distancing. Tavares said that the restaurant and food services are also doable under these conditions considering that many restaurants statewide continue to operate.

Norman Franco, Maui Lanes project coordinator, said that project officials are in the ground-level phase. They already approached the real estate agent representing the owners of the former Safeway store, expressing their interest in leasing the site long term.

But building an “outstanding” business plan to reach a reasonable agreement, as well as an approval from the neighboring store, Ross Dress For Less, is still in the works.

“Norman Franco and his team, of which I play a role, have been working on reviving the dream I’ve had for decades, of creating a family entertainment center for our Maui community, with an emphasis on bowling,” Tavares said.

Franco said they are giving an investor the opportunity to buy 40 percent of the corporation they’re working to develop. Recently they reserved the name “Maui Family Amusement Center Inc. (MFAC),” he said.

The potential investor must be willing to commit at least $2 million of the total $15 million, a bill that Tavares said is going to be the biggest challenge. An additional $1.6 million will be made through selling memberships to the general public and offering substantial benefits to members, Franco added.

“I stay up at night visualizing how the interior will look like and I can see people having good clean fun in Maui’s happy place for all ages,” he said.

Tavares said her plans for construction of the entertainment center were anticipated to begin back in 2005, but “due to business complications,” the project did not happen.

“I did not give up and have been looking for sites for years now,” she said. “Initially, I had intended to purchase the land and build the center, but in the last six or more years, I have been looking at existing buildings that are available.”

The number of large buildings that recently have been vacated due to relocations or closures — including K-Mart, Sports Authority, Lowe’s and the old Kahului Safeway — is a concern, she said.

“I want to bring life back to the area,” she said. “I want to avoid creating areas of unkempt buildings, and repurpose what we have, and not take up more ag land. I thought this would be a good time to look at repurposing some of those buildings.”

A completed business plan and further financial projections will be available by mid-November, Franco said. Once plans are solidified, he hopes to begin advertising via social media before the end of this year and be operational by this time in 2021. Tavares said if they can nail down the old Kahului Safeway site, the timeline is doable.

“Once we get that financial angel, we will be proceeding with all possible speed to make this project happen — if not at the former Kahului Safeway store, somewhere else, like the former location of Lowe’s at the Maui Marketplace or even a freestanding building somewhere in Central Maui,” Franco said. “One way or the other we are going to make this project happen.”

* Dakota Grossman can be reached at dgrossman@mauinews.com.

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