Economic district measures advance

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Bills that would create the first-ever community economic district on Hawaii Island are inching their way toward a final form.

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Bills that would create the first-ever community economic district on Hawaii Island are inching their way toward a final form.

The companion bills were introduced in both chambers of the state Legislature by a cohort of Big Island senators and representatives. House Bill 1479 has one more hearing to go after clearing joint committees this week and Senate Bill 1292 was scheduled for a Friday afternoon hearing, but a final outcome was not available by press time.

The bills seek to form a Hilo Community Economic District, which would establish co-management of a broad area, including the Waiakea Peninsula and the Kanoelehua Industrial Area, between the state Department of Land and Natural Resources and the Hawaii Community Development Association.

The HCDA is part of the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism. It was created to promote development and planning for “underutilized urban areas” in Hawaii. There are three other such districts in the state, all on Oahu.

The measures have received considerable attention on the Big Island for their potential to help stimulate growth and redevelopment in Hilo. They are supported not only by directly impacted organizations such as the Kanoelehua Industrial Area Association, but also industry groups such as Hawaii Island Realtors and the Hawaii Island Contractors Association.

The University of Hawaii at Hilo and the University of Hawaii Community College System testified in support, as did the East Hawaii Region of Hawaii Health Systems Corp., which oversees Hilo Medical Center.

In addition, the Hawaii County Council plans to take up a resolution to support HB 1479 and SB 1292, along with a package of related legislation, during its Feb. 22 meeting.

According to written testimony provided by HCDA Executive Director Jesse Souki, management of a Hilo district is expected to cost just more than $1 million per year, with initial startup costs of $50,000. The annual costs include $520,000 for the salaries of “4.5” full-time employees, yearly operating costs of $430,000 and $100,000 to operate a satellite HCDA office in the Banyan Drive area.

HCDA has not taken a position on the proposal itself other than to state that any expansion of its program include the necessary funding.

After the House bill’s hearing before the committees on Economic Development and Business and Tourism, the groups recommended an appropriation of $1.1 million to establish the district.

The bill also establishes a revolving fund for the district, intended to be supported via income from the district leases as well as “grants, gifts, awards (and) donations.”

The state Department of Budget and Finance weighed in during a hearing to note its policy is to support only the creation of revolving funds that are self-sustaining.

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The bills must receive their final hearings by Friday in order to be considered for crossing over to the next chamber.

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

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