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Your Views for December 29

Banyan Drive solution

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Banyan Drive solution

Article XII, Section 4, of the Hawaii Constitution prescribes that the lands granted to the state of Hawaii through the Admission Act “… shall be held by the state as a public trust to Native Hawaiians and the general public.” Furthermore, Hawaii Revised Statutes, Section 171-36(a)(2) dictates, “No lease shall be for a longer term than sixty-five years.”

The Department of Land and Natural Resources, in its capacity as the state’s land manager, has the fiduciary duty to manage these lands in the best interests of the public by enhancing state revenues and promoting the social, environmental and economic well-being of Hawaii’s people.

The land underlying the Uncle Billy’s/Pagoda property has been continuously leased since 1949, which today constitutes an aggregate lease period of more than 67 years, or two years beyond the statutory maximum permitted by law. In adherence to the law, this lease should have been terminated and a public auction for a new lease conducted shortly after termination March 15, 2015. DLNR should have, as required by law, determined the future use of this property two years prior.

Instead, an initial one-year holdover lease and subsequent month-to-month revocable permit was issued with no requirement to update the property to current building and fire codes or to correct other pertinent health, safety and security issues. Moreover, under the current terms of the revocable permit, the lessee pays $2,984 per month in rent for a 145-room, oceanfront hotel — a sum grossly below current market rates for this type of property.

In a study completed last year, DLNR determined the property has five to 10 years of usable life remaining. Unfortunately, our East Hawaii economy can’t wait five to 10 years to see economic growth. We desperately need this growth now.

To set the course of Banyan Drive and generate much-needed jobs and an infusion of capital investment in East Hawaii, issuing a new, long-term 55-year lease through a competitive bidding process is the answer. If we want to bring direct flights from the U.S. mainland back to Hilo International Airport or entice cruise ship visitors and day trip tourists from Oahu to stay overnight in East Hawaii, we need to give them quality hotel choices to stay in.

As the majority landowner of all industrial and resort lands in East Hawaii, the state plays an enormous role in influencing the economic development and overall success of our community. If we want to grow the Merrie Monarch Festival or bring another world-class event to Hilo, the revitalization of Banyan Drive is key to unlocking this potential. Failure to do so will continue to suppress our economy and further delay the future growth of East Hawaii.

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State Sen. Kaiali‘i Kahele

Hilo