Measure aims to boost to Banyan Drive

  • Chris Todd

Big Island legislators are backing a proposal to create a redevelopment district to revitalize the Waiakea peninsula and Banyan Drive.

House Bill 467, which was introduced in the state Legislature last month, would codify statewide rules for designating state lands as redevelopment districts. It also would specifically designate the state lands on the Waiakea peninsula as such a district.

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The bill was co-introduced by five Big Island representatives, who worked for years on ways to improve the area, said one introducer, Hilo Rep. Chris Todd.

“I think there’s some agreement that Banyan Drive has gone downhill somewhat over the past 30-40 years,” Todd said. “My mom used to tell me about the events that happened there, some live music events, and that just doesn’t happen anymore.”

Todd said the bill will redirect 50% of income generated by the peninsula’s public lands — including the lease fees paid by developers — back into the district, and would appoint a Waiakea Peninsula Redevelopment Committee to discuss the future of the area and how best to improve it.

Some of those possible improvements could include a small stadium to serve as a “more permanent home” for the Merrie Monarch Festival, expanding the Lili‘uokalani Park and Gardens, building a new smaller hotel to replace the closed Pagoda Hilo Bay Hotel, or adding a light commercial district to the area, Todd said.

In any case, Todd said that, should the bill pass, the committee would take about two years to determine the best course of action, and the first results of that could be seen a year or two after that.

Todd said the bill has received broad support from local businesses, with management for the Banyan Drive resorts pleased that more of their lease fees would remain on the island instead of going to the rest of the state.

At a pair of committee hearings this month, some Big Island organizations and businesses testified in support of the bill, including the Kanoelehua Industrial Area Association, which also is part of a similar redevelopment district.

“The current framework for management of the Waiakea peninsula has been sub-par to market expectations, which is having a harmful effect on the economy of East Hawaii,” wrote KIAA administrator Cory Aguiar. “… Local expertise has an opportunity to be a part of a redevelopment district that will allow public lands to be managed properly which in turn will help the sites on the Waiakea peninsula to be revitalized and relevant in today’s market.”

Audrey Takamine, vice president of Takamine Construction in Hilo, also wrote in support of the bill, saying it would generate “much needed revenue” for the island, an opinion echoed by Ross Birch, president of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Hawaii and executive director of the Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau.

“This designation will provide the catalyst for proper development and the committee to oversee that development,” Birch wrote.

One party that does not support the bill is the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, which submitted several pages of negative testimony at both of the hearings this month.

The DLNR statement identifies several problems with the bill, including the addition of “an additional layer of bureaucracy in government,” wording that would likely exclude infrastructure such as roads from the redevelopment district, and the subtraction of 50% of public land leases from DLNR funds.

“Neither this bill nor the redevelopment agency bills relieve the department of the lease management duties,” the DLNR statement read. “Therefore, if these measures were all to pass and become law, the department would be left in the very unfortunate situation of having to manage all of those leases … but receive nominal revenue in return.”

However, Todd disagreed.

“This bill wouldn’t be necessary if there was a belief that DLNR has managed this land well,” Todd said.

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“How are we supposed to improve the island’s economy when the only resorts on the east side of the island are right next to all this mess?” Todd concluded.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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