Grant boosts HIPCC center

HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Archie and Marlene Hapai stand Wednesday at the future site of the Hawaii Island Portuguese Chamber of Commerce Cultural and Educational Center at the corner of Komohana and Ponahawai streets in Hilo.

A new $150,000 Grant in Aid from the state Legislature has brought the Hawaii Island Portuguese Chamber of Commerce Cultural and Educational Center closer to its funding goal — and the long-awaited project closer to fruition.

Center President and interim director Marlene Hapai said the design development phase is almost completed “and soon we’ll be into the construction documents phase” before the project moves into the permitting and the bidding process.


Permitting and bidding are expected to begin in late June and early July, she said, with construction anticipated to begin in December 2019 or January 2020.

The projected construction completion date is September or October 2020.

The Hawaii Island Portuguese Chamber of Commerce was established 37 years ago, Hapai said, and in 2002, “had the foresight to see the culture, and especially the culture of the Portuguese in Hawaii and the stories that accompanied their coming to Hawaii first in 1878 … seemed to be fading away.”

That year, the Portuguese Cultural and Educational Center was established as a nonprofit organization and in 2007, property located on the corner of Komohana and Ponahawai streets was donated for the center.

But it “pretty much sat there” for almost a decade, Hapai said.

In 2016, Hapai was president of the HIPCC but realized “somebody needed to pick up the ball.”

When fundraising began in earnest in 2016, Hapai said the center had “a piece of property and $7,900 in the bank.”

Three years later, the center still has the property and is up to $1.9 million of the $2.24 million projected budget for construction.

“We’re getting there,” Hapai said. “Sometimes the last few hundred thousand are hardest to get.”

The Center received a $1 million Grant in Aid in 2016 with the help of state Sen. Kai Kahele, and a $200,000 Grant in Aid in 2018 and a $150,000 Grant in Aid in April with the help of state Reps. Chris Todd and Mark Nakashima.

“That really helps because it’s not easy to raise funds on the Big Island,” Hapai said. “We’re not one of the richer islands. … We’re just working diligently and asking people for donations and in-kind services. (We are) very fortunate getting substantial amounts of in-kind donations pledged, especially for the construction.”

Cultural center board member and building committee member Gerald De Mello said the first $1 million grant “gave us momentum. It gave us a sense that this was doable.”

De Mello said it “feels very good” to see the progress on the project “because we’ve been at this for about four years now. When the land was conveyed to us … it was almost 10 years before we actually had things going.”

According to Hapai, the center will have three main points of emphasis: exploration, emigration and assimilation.

The Hall of Exploration, which is the “old connecting with the new,” will focus on the history of the Portuguese and “share with everyone the rich history the Portuguese brought with them to Hawaii.”

Emigration will focus on the 29 voyages that brought the Portuguese to Hawaii between 1878 and 1913, she said.

“What we have in that hall is the picture of the ships we’re able to get a hold of,” as well as surnames of those aboard and quotes from ship logs, “to make it real,” said Hapai.

Assimilation will look at what was brought by the original Portuguese travelers, “and how this has worked its way into Hawaii culture,” as well as what the Portuguese accomplished.

“I look at the economic development that the center could provide to the great state of Hawaii because we’re looking at this as an international center,” said Archie Hapai, a member of the building committee.

The center will also serve as a place for “fellowship and sharing,” and will use technology to reunite families around the world, Marlene Hapai said.

It was important, too, that the center also had a Portuguese name — Saudades.

Saudades means the longing — “the longing for something, longing for a better life, yet longing for family, friends and homeland left behind,” which Marlene Hapai said is “really the story of all immigrants.”

Fundraising for the center continues.

The second annual Malasada Shuffle 5K and Family Fun Day is 8 a.m. to 1 p.m June 22 at Francis Wong Stadium in Hilo, and will feature a run/walk, children’s games, a mustache contest, country western music, food and more.

Registration is $25 and can be completed from 3-6 p.m. June 21 at Francis Wong Stadium, or from 6:30-7:45 a.m. the day of the event.

Registration forms can be found online at

Email Stephanie Salmons at

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