Farmers market canopy to be constructed ‘soon’

  • JOHN BURNETT/Tribune-Herald A sign at Hilo Farmers Market on Wednesday tells customers construction will start soon.

While the actual building of a permanent canopy over Hilo Farmers Market’s produce area hasn’t yet started, a sign was posted saying construction will start soon.

“This is the farthest we’ve taken it, and we’re excited to be starting this project,” said Keith De La Cruz, the market’s owner, on Wednesday.

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At last report, construction of the permanent canopy was to have started Sept. 1, but according to Barett Otani, an executive assistant to Mayor Harry Kim, approval of tsunami engineering specifications has to take place before the actual construction can start.

“Since they’re in a tsunami inundation zone, they need specs for an architect to stamp it, to certify that the materials will withstand a tsunami event and the structure will not fail and harm other property or people,” Otani said. “They’re working on that right now, and I should get that any day. As soon as that happens, the contractor can start boots on the ground, getting the materials in.”

Otani said the matter of a breakaway firewall to mitigate flood waters in the 10-foot setback between the market and Reuben’s Mexican Food was resolved, and De La Cruz finalized financing for the project in late September.

According to Otani, De La Cruz has six months from the date the financing package was signed to complete the project.

“He’s starting preliminary construction,” Otani said. “They’re doing things like marking out the area on the plot. They put up a sign in the front saying construction is going to start soon. He’s notified the vendors when the materials come, and they’ll be moving across the street to the other side.”

The market sits at the corner of Kamehameha Avenue and Mamo Street, with the produce market on the Hamakua side of Mamo. The “other side” referred to by Otani is the Keaukaha side of Mamo Street, where arts and crafts vendors sell their wares on two separate parcels of land. Permits are being sought for canopies for those sites.

Otani said De La Cruz “hopefully will get the approvals soon” for the crafts side. The cost for the entire project has been estimated at $400,000.

The project, which has been on-again, off-again since March 17, 2008, became more urgent March 16, 2018, when a five-year extension of a five-year Special Management Area permit for the project expired without a permanent structure being built, despite several sets of plans.

At that point, the county sent De La Cruz a letter saying he reached the deadline to complete the permanent structure. The letter also stated the market, at that time sheltered by tarps, was in violation of the county’s zoning, building and fire codes and would be fined $1,000 a day for each of the parcels the market occupies for each day violations continued to occur.

Otani told the Tribune-Herald in August the fines, which had reached $212,000, were halted when the plans now undergoing the final tsunami engineering specs were submitted. The county then halved the fines to $106,000, and suspended $81,000 of the $106,000, provided De La Cruz meets all the benchmarks on the project laid out by the county.

De La Cruz will have to pay $25,000 in fines, no matter what. Otani said none of that has changed since August, but he is optimistic now that De La Cruz received financing for the project.

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“He has met all benchmarks and is working with us,” Otani said. “This is the farthest it’s ever gotten, and there’s a big commitment. By the end of November, we should see movement as far as building going on.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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