Puna Kai developer seeks area entrepreneurs

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Real estate development company Meridian Pacific Ltd. says about two-thirds of storefront spaces at its planned Puna Kai shopping center are spoken for.

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Real estate development company Meridian Pacific Ltd. says about two-thirds of storefront spaces at its planned Puna Kai shopping center are spoken for.

But what’s still missing, said Meridian President Gary Pinkston, is purveyors of “soft goods” — meaning clothing stores.

Puna Kai, to be located at 15-2714 Pahoa Village Road, is a nearly 10-acre, $40 million project adjacent to where Longs Drugs and Burger King are located in Pahoa.

Construction crews began working at the site in August, with businesses expected to begin opening in mid-2018.

An extension of Kahakai Boulevard is expected to ease traffic flow, along with a new stoplight at Kahakai’s intersection with Pahoa Village Road.

Puna Kai captured attention when Malama Market announced it will relocate from its current 12,000-square-foot location to a new 35,000-square-foot store as an anchor tenant at Puna Kai — creating the largest Malama Market in the state.

Pinkston said he’s interested in partnering with community entrepreneurs for the clothing shops.

That’s something Hawaii County Council member Jen Ruggles appreciates.

“We have a lot of really creative entrepreneurs in Puna, and some of those do make clothing,” Ruggles said.

She said community entrepreneurship is something she is “optimistic that the landlords of Puna Kai will encourage.”

Even if those startup clothing stores don’t end up at Puna Kai, some Puna businesses are likely to relocate there, freeing up locations for new stores. Ruggles said it’s tough for startup businesses to find available spots in Puna. She’s hopeful Puna Kai will help.

“I’m really excited at the potential because Puna is a really diverse district,” Ruggles said.

The district is well-known for being the fastest-growing in the state. But it’s also a district where about 30 percent of the population lives below the federal poverty line, Ruggles said.

“We desperately need anything that’s going to help boost our economy,” she said.

Pinkston said he closed on his purchase of the Puna Kai land. It was purchased from Hilo-based BT Kuwahara LLC.

Pinkston said last week that he’s awaiting permission to fully discuss several tenants’ and potential tenants’ plans. But he noted Pizza Hut has signed on as one of the tenants.

“Pizza Hut, they’re really proud of it,” he said. “They’re ready to go.”

Some companies that expressed interest backed away, a common scenario such developments undergo as tenants express interest and then either sign on or lose interest. The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, Pinkston said, is one that decided against Puna Kai.

Dunkin’ Donuts, however, is confirmed, he said. Others previously confirmed include Aloha Petroleum, Starbucks, McDonald’s and an as-yet-unnamed tax preparer.

Pinkston said he’s been a developer for 40 years and has never seen such a development-friendly environment.

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“We are so appreciative of the county and the municipalities,” he said. “They have just been outstanding. It’s a breath of fresh air to deal with the County of Hawaii.”

Email Jeff Hansel at jhansel@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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