Residents praise Banyan plan, offer feedback

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Hilo residents got their first chance to weigh in on proposed redevelopment plans for the Banyan Drive area on Tuesday afternoon.


Hilo residents got their first chance to weigh in on proposed redevelopment plans for the Banyan Drive area on Tuesday afternoon.

More than 60 people attended the standing-room only informational meeting at the Aupuni Conference Center, where county planners gave an overview of possible new land uses and revitalization efforts for the peninsula, which was declared “blighted” earlier this year.

The designation allowed Hawaii County to create and appoint members to a Banyan Drive Redevelopment Agency. The new board is separate from the county Planning Department, Planning Director Duane Kanuha said, and “can do a lot of things our department doesn’t do,” such as float bonds and finance new projects.

The board was created using the same process that led to the Hawaii Redevelopment Agency after the 1960 tsunami.

“That agency was responsible for a lot of the way Hilo looks today,” Kanuha said. “This building that we’re sitting in is actually on a plateau that was built up as a part of that development plan.”

The Banyan Drive agency also will ultimately adopt a master development plan, which will incorporate state studies that address topics such as sea level rise and useful building life.

That step is down the road, Kanuha said. One of the initial steps is gathering public input regarding the conceptual plan created over the past six months.

“The plan really looks very lovely,” said Banyan Drive resident Carl Oguss.

Oguss said planners would need to further address the costs of the project — none have been specified yet — as well as the need to keep some residential units in the area, particularly affordable housing units.

“I would like to see this plan include, perhaps, elder housing,” Oguss said. “These buildings are not worthless; they are rehab-able …. we give (homelessness) lip service. Let’s give it some actual decision making.”

Don Inouye, a part owner of Reeds Bay Resort Hotel, said that Banyan Drive business owners would have to take on the responsibility of bringing tourists to the area by doing more to promote their hotels.

“We need to market to tourists because they’re not going to walk up to (the door),” he said.

George Applegate, former executive director of the Big Island Visitors Bureau, offered historical context for Banyan Drive’s decline from its tourism glory days in the 1960s, noting that visitor numbers began to drop after the United Airlines pilot strike of 1976.

“Visitors moved to the other side (of the island) until we had nothing left for Hilo,” Applegate said. He said that with more visitors coming to the Big Island to visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, there was no reason they shouldn’t be staying in Hilo.

Several people objected to the conceptual plan’s placement of a new hotel on a parcel currently part of Liliuokalani Park and Gardens.

K.T. Cannon-Eger, president of the board of Friends of Liliuokalani Gardens, said the park was “a national asset,” and that there should not be a hotel “casting a shadow literally and figuratively on this treasure that we have.”

She praised the overall plan, however, and said she was glad the area would be improved.

Kanuha said that the hotel placement was an “error that’s going to be revisited.”

“That’s something we put on the map based on information we had at that time,” he said. “Over time, you start second guessing — ‘Is that the best location for that?’”

The proposed open space where current structures such as the Country Club condominiums are located also will be revisited.

The theme of the draft plan is to “keep it native to what the functions of Banyan Drive were before the (tsunami),” Kanuha said.

A second Banyan Drive draft conceptual plan meeting for those unable to attend the Tuesday session will be held at 4:30 p.m. July 5.

To view additional Banyan Drive materials, visit and click Banyan Drive Redevelopment.

To provide comment on the proposed plans, email


The deadline for comment is July 15.

Email Ivy Ashe at

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