Agency tweaks Banyan project

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Having made a series of broad sketches over the past months, the Banyan Drive Hawaii Redevelopment Agency and the Hawaii County Planning Department are beginning to tweak details for the ambitious long-term project that will renovate one of Hilo’s most recognizable areas.

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Having made a series of broad sketches over the past months, the Banyan Drive Hawaii Redevelopment Agency and the Hawaii County Planning Department are beginning to tweak details for the ambitious long-term project that will renovate one of Hilo’s most recognizable areas.

The agency met Thursday to discuss public comments gathered after two June meetings. The meetings offered an overview of the Planning Department’s draft conceptual plan for the Banyan Drive peninsula.

Some concepts from the first plan, such as a new hotel built on an expanded Liliuokalani Park and Gardens, were scrapped after considerable negative feedback from the public.

But most aspects of the draft were well-received, such as the creation of a community cultural center that could host the Merrie Monarch Festival and connecting the park at Reeds Bay with the Kuhio Kalanianaole Park.

People also supported re-purposing the Banyan golf course and creating more park space, as well as removing the blighted buildings in the area.

Some suggested bringing in a name-brand hotel where visitors could use their frequent traveler points.

One area of concern for commenters was the need to keep affordable housing in the area so current tenants would not be forced to relocate. Future drafts of the conceptual plan will include more mixed-use buildings.

Both the board and the Planning Department are aiming for a balance between renovating and marketing the area, particularly its hotels, to bring in more tourists, and creating a space for the local community.

“Here we stand at a crossroad where we can invest totally in our community and give back something,” said board member Sigmund Zane on Thursday. “Other islands have sold out on all the best places, and there’s no return on that. I think we can really develop something for future generations.

“It’s a blessing in disguise that we have all the Bayfront areas open because of what the tsunami did, but that’s a resource that very few people have,” he said.

Board vice chairwoman Mary Begier said the agency would need to “keep our minds really creative” during the planning process.

Most of Banyan Drive is owned by the state and leased out, but some private parcels are also on the peninsula.

“The idea is to create a master plan (so) that there’s incentive for private parties to participate, to work out for the benefit of everyone,” said Planning Department director Duane Kanuha.

More discussion is needed regarding traffic circulation — pedestrian, bicycle and vehicle — on Banyan, he said.

Zane suggested creating a defined point of access to the area.

“I think … we need an actual entry that people drive through and go, ‘OK, I’m here,’” he said.

The next Banyan Drive Hawaii Redevelopment Agency meeting is scheduled for 2 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 31, in the Aupuni Center Conference Room.

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To view the Banyan Drive planning documents and maps, visit www.hawaiicounty.gov/boards-and-commissions and click “Banyan Drive Redevelopment.”

Email Ivy Ashe at iashe@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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