New canopy taking shape at farmers market

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Construction of the framework of Hilo Farmers Market's new canopy is progressing on Wednesday.

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Pedestrians walk by as Jaden Segobia marks a pole while constructing the framework Hilo Farmers Market's new canopy on Wednesday.

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald A worker prepares the frame for a new canopy Wednesday at the Hilo Farmers Market.

The foundation is in place, the framework is being erected, and a new produce market canopy at Hilo Farmers Market is taking shape.

Keith De La Cruz, the downtown market’s owner, said his goal for completing the structure that will allow the produce area to be returned from the Keaukaha side to the Hamakua side of Mamo Street is “the end of the month.”

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“We’ve put up the posts, the groundwork, the trusses … and soon we’ll be putting on the roof,” De La Cruz said.

De La Cruz said the progress being made makes him “happy and relieved and concerned at the same time.”

“Happy and relieved because we want to get this done as soon as possible, and concerned because we’re in the middle of a pandemic,” he said.

Construction of the canopy and two others for the craft area on the opposite side of Mamo Street has been pushed back numerous times. The market is in a tsunami inundation zone, which means it requires a Special Management Area permit.

The most recent delays were setbacks in manufacturing and shipping due to COVID-19. Prior to that, cost estimates for a concrete firewall between the market and the building next door housing Reuben’s Mexican Food came in way over projections.

Plans had to be resubmitted without the firewall but with a setback that would reduce usable space on the produce market parcel.

Until the recent start of construction, the improvement project had been on-again, off-again since 2008.

On March 16, 2018, a five-year extension of a five-year SMA permit for the project expired without a permanent structure being built, despite several sets of plans, each one scaled back from the previous set.

At that point, the county sent De La Cruz a letter saying he’d reached the deadline to complete the permanent structure. The letter said the market, which at that time was 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.

The fines were later withdrawn by the county when it became clear De La Cruz was making an effort to comply with permitting requirements.

Barett Otani, executive assistant to Mayor Mitch Roth, said the base is an asphalt/concrete mix and added, “It was like a great celebration to see the poles going up.”

“Because of COVID and the delays in manufacturing, it set us back,” Otani said. “If it happens by the end of the month, great. But it’s good to see some signs of normalcy, or the new normalcy.

“We’ll have a new farmers market and … it’s good for the local people to have an option of a place to go for their fruits and vegetables and stuff like that.”

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Added De La Cruz, “We can see the light at the end of this project, so we’re hopeful that our community and economy will be back to some sort of normalcy by summertime.”

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

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