KEDB’s Baldwin still running Waimea tech-visitor center

Gary Baldwin is working on a Kauai Economic Development Board project as he awaits a final decision on his possible extradition to Arizona to face felony theft charges.

In particular, Baldwin is considering closing down, and possibly relocating, the visitor center managed by the KEDB at the West Kauai Technology and Visitor Center at Waimea. The visitor center would be mostly replaced by office space similar to that already in use by high-tech contractors who do work at the center related to projects at the Pacific Missile Range Facility.

His plans are being questioned by some Westside residents.

Westsiders are among the parties invited to a meeting focusing on issues surrounding the possible closing.

The meeting is being called by Mayor Maryanne Kusaka sometime this week, said Gini Kapali, director of the County of Kaua’i’s Office of Economic Development.

The county department oversees the 30-year lease that the county has with KEDB to manage the one-acre complex.

On May 23 an earlier proposal to close the visitor center was the focus of a meeting at Waimea. At the meeting Baldwin met with the mayor and leaders of the Westside community to discuss relocating the visitor center.

Linda Fay Collins, executive director of the Kikiaola Land Co., said she attended the meeting and was considering moving the visitor center to her company’s offices in a plantation-era building located across Kaumuali’i Highway from the visitor and high-tech center.

However, prior to the meeting Baldwin decided to pull back his plan for immediate relocation, she said.

The meeting came after word spread on the Westside that the visitor center would closed down by the end of May, to be mostly turned into office space.

“This year the West Kauai Business and Professional Association received quite a shock in early May when we were told that the Visitor Center would be closing at the end of the month,” said Chris Fay of Kekaha, coordinator of the displays of historical Kaua’i artifacts that were originally installed at the visitor center for its opening in April, 1999. Fay more recently volunteered her services to mount a display on Kaua’i paniolo that is currently the feature exhibit at the visitor center.

“It was incomprehensible to us that the excuse was that the visitor center was not meeting its budget,” said Fay. “There wasn’t visible proof that any money or effort had been made beyond the opening exhibits to display quality exhibits. The real reason seemed to be that KEDB wanted to rent out the space to one of its tenants.”

Descriptions of what the visitor center would accomplish for the Westside were told to the Westside community by representatives of KEDB as the technology and visitor center was being planned in 1997 and 1998. Speakers said the visitor center would redirect visitors to visitor attractions and local businesses in Waimea, Kekaha and other Westside locations, and be a magnet for economic development for the Westside. Studies showed that hundreds of thousands of visitors drove past Waimea to see Koke’e each year, but only a small percentage stopped in Westside towns.

Baldwin has played a key role at the technology-visitor center as the former president and chief executive officer of the Kauai Economic Development Board. He was a charter director of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, where he served as chairman of the strategic planning and accountability committee until a few months ago, and a former member, and chairman, of the Kaua’i County Planning Commission.

Baldwin is now out on bail and back on Kaua’i after recently receiving Hawai’i state judicial permission to return to the island. He is fighting extradition to Arizona where he would face four felony theft counts related to an indictment issued in 1986 by a Maricopa County (Phoenix), Ariz. grand jury for allegedly defrauding an eye surgeon there out of over $330,000, according to the FBI. He was arrested on Kaua’i in late July by the FBI on charges related to the 1986 indictment.

At the opening of the tech-visitor center in 1999, Sen. Daniel Inouye congratulated KEDB leaders Baldwin and Hollis Crozier for helping to secure the federal disaster relief funding for the center. Originally, the funds were earmarked for post-Hurricane ‘Iniki economic revitalization of the old Amfac building supplies center at Hanapepe.

The center was built with a $2.4 million federal Economic Development Assistance grant that the County of Kaua’i’s Office of Economic Development was awarded following the devastation of Hurricane ‘Iniki in 1992.

Most of the coordination for the development of the project was conducted by the County of Kaua’i’s Office of Economic Development.

The KEDB oversees the operation of the visitor-technology center through a 30-year contract with the County of Kaua’i. The land is provided to the county for $1 a year by the Kikiaola Land Co., which has a 50-year lease with the county for use of the land.

Upkeep and staff support for the 1,900 square-foot visitor center section of the building and adjacent 900-square-foot audio visual room come from the rents collected from high-tech businesses that have offices in the complex. The federally-funded building is owned free and clear by the County of Kaua’i.

The center hosts visitors and local residents, who view displays of Kaua’i-related objects and interpretive displays like a model of the record-setting solar plane Helios and a glass case full of Kauai Quarterback Challenge memorabilia.

Ongoing events facilitated by the locally-hired staff of the center include a historical walk through Waimea town and an Aloha Friday craft program.

No admission is charged to tour the visitor center, though cash donations are solicited through the use of a donation basket.

Editor Chris Cook be reached at mailto:ccook@pulitzer.net or 245-3681 (ext. 227).

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