Revitalizing Banyan: Bill to create agency on its way to final vote

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald file photo Hotels line Banyan Drive in 2013 in Hilo.

A bill creating a new redevelopment district for the Waiakea Peninsula is headed for its final vote in the state Legislature.

The peninsula consists of mostly state land and is home to Hilo’s large hotels, including the Hilo Hawaiian and Grand Naniloa Hotel, and the shuttered Uncle Billy’s Hilo Bay Hotel, along Banyan Drive.

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Hawaii County created its own redevelopment entity a few years ago, which created a conceptual plan for the area, but it has lacked funding to conduct necessary studies.

House Bill 1219 would instead create a new state-led entity to oversee redevelopment of the area. It would take effect assuming the county repeals its own redevelopment agency.

The organization would be funded with 50 percent of the area’s public land leases and any money appropriated by the Legislature. It would be overseen by a nine-member board and an administrator.

“It brings the state funding behind the process,” said Rep. Richard Onishi, who introduced it. “In this case the funds for the committee comes directly from the resources of that district.”

The bill cleared the Senate Ways and Means Committee on Friday, and will be up for third reading in the chamber this week.

The Legislature has tried for the past several years to renew the area, which has languished from an overall lack of investment.

After the Senate votes, the bill is expected to head to a conference committee, where Senate and House leaders work out differences between their versions.

Onishi, D-Hilo, Keaau, Kurtistown, Volcano, said he is hopeful it will survive that process this year.

“It’s long overdue,” he said.

Onishi said the district is not permanent and would expire after 10 years.

A separate bill introduced by Sen. Kai Kahele would provide state funding for the county’s entity, along with a county match. Kahele, D-Hilo, said that bill is dead for the session.

Kahele, who passed HB 1219 out of the Senate Water and Land Committee, which he chairs, said he is supporting Onishi’s measure.

“Honestly, I want something to get done,” he said. “We can’t go through another legislative session” without passing legislation for Banyan Drive.

Kahele encouraged Hilo residents to continue to submit testimony in favor and contact legislators as they head into conference later this session.

“It’s important our entire Hilo and East Hawaii community stand together so we can get something done for Banyan Drive,” he said.

Responsibilities for the new entity would include creating a redevelopment plan and negotiating leases.

Seven members of the committee would be appointed by the governor.

The chairperson of the state Board of Land and Natural Resources and the county’s planning director would serve as ex officio members.

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The administrator would receive a salary.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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