Businessman plans market, cultural demonstration site to help Pahoa

  • Amedeo Markoff stands next to tables he carved from mango trees at the former site of the Akebono Theatre. He plans to open a farmers market and cultural demonstration site there. (TOM CALLIS/Triune-Herald)

One of the proponents of a new farmers market and cultural demonstration site in Pahoa says it’s all about helping the town survive. And then thrive.

“We believe in time the economy will heal,” said Pahoa businessman Amedeo Markoff. “But you got to be proactive.”

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Known as Hale Halawai o Puna, or gathering place of Puna, the initiative will involve a market and space for Hawaiian cultural practitioners to show their skills and heritage, such as canoe and lei making, at the site of the former Akebono Theatre.

The theater and former Luquin’s Restaurant were destroyed in a fire in January 2017.

“People here create their own jobs,” he said. “This is about that.”

Markoff said he is partnering with property owner Sal Luquin, who has reopened his restaurant at a new location in town, and is working with Polynesian Adventure Tours to bring cruise ship passengers to the site. He wants it to serve as an educational site or portal for tourists who go on to see the volcanic features from last year’s eruption.

Leila Kealoha, the project’s cultural adviser, said the market and demonstration will provide a much-needed venue for artists and cultural practitioners.

“I hope it just brings people that want to support our community,” she said.

“That we can share in the good things that we have to offer.”

The site will utilize temporary tents, so it won’t get in the way of any future redevelopment of the property. Markoff said they have the necessary permits, and a soft opening could be a few weeks away. He said it can operate up to five days a week.

Gil Aguinaldo also is planning a cultural and visitor center at his property where Pu‘uhonua o Puna was located. Markoff, vice president of the Mainstreet Pahoa Association, said Pahoa needs more venues to attract visitors, so he doesn’t mind the overlap.

Markoff, who owns Puna Gallery and Gift Emporium, said he got the idea shortly before the eruption started in May 2018. But he thinks it’s needed now more than ever to bring people back to the small historical town.

He said businesses are still down 50 percent from a year ago. Six have closed down.

Yet he remains bullish on Pahoa.

“It’s a super unique, historical town, and it’s eclectic,” Markoff said.

“I’m stubbornly optimistic.”

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On the web: https://halehalawaiopuna.com.

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

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