Savio discusses future of Uncle Billy’s

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Uncle Billy’s Hilo Bay Hotel would remain open — though under a different name — if the state Land Board agrees to transfer its land lease to a new operator next week.

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Uncle Billy’s Hilo Bay Hotel would remain open — though under a different name — if the state Land Board agrees to transfer its land lease to a new operator next week.

Peter Savio, a real estate developer who is proposing to acquire the iconic Banyan Drive business, said it likely would be renamed Pagoda’s Hilo Bay Hotel, or something similar, after the budget hotel he owns in Honolulu.

He said the 145-room Uncle Billy’s hotel, which was recently slated for closure, would continue to cater to kama‘aina and tourists, as it has for more than 50 years, adding he plans to reopen the restaurant that closed a few years ago.

Savio said the hotel can still make money, and he plans to operate it until the state decides to redevelop the land, assuming it remains profitable.

“For us, it makes sense to take it over and operate it rather than board it up and tear it down,” he said.

The move, if approved by the state Board of Land and Natural Resources on Feb. 12, could save nearly 40 jobs and would keep the property from sitting vacant for years. Last month, the hotel announced that it would close Monday.

Aaron Whiting, hotel manager and grandson of founder William J. Kimi Jr., said they will keep it operating until the Land Board makes its decision. If approved, Savio said he would take it over immediately.

He said the deal would involve him buying the furniture and other hotel amenities and leasing the buildings and land from the state.

The hotel’s land lease is set to expire in mid-March when it becomes a month-to-month revocable permit.

He said the state Department of Land and Natural Resources will own the buildings at that point.

The hotel previously received a one-year extension.

Hawaii County is seeking to form a new agency to oversee redevelopment of the site and other properties on Banyan Drive. The Windward Planning Commission will discuss the proposal today.

Savio said the hotel is in good shape for its age, but he agrees with DLNR’s assessment that it is nearing the end of its useful life in the next decade.

“I don’t think anyone would take it and fix it up and keep it long term,” he said. “I think eventually it will be torn down … but it’s not a bad hotel. They’ve done a wonderful job of keeping up with the rooms.”

Savio said he first approached Kimi, who built much of the hotel himself, a year ago about buying the business. A deal wasn’t reached then, but he said he reapproached the founder after it was announced the hotel would close.

“He was very concerned about the employees,” he said. “This way, the jobs get preserved.”

Savio, who was born in Hilo, also owns the Waiakea Villas commercial area next to Waiakea Pond.

He said he was initially considering building a Pagoda brand hotel there.

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“Instead of building right now, we will use Uncle Billy’s,” Savio said.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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