Architects offer free consultation on improving Lihu’e’s public places

Professional architects and residents from Kaua’i and O’ahu have joined forces to update a county plan to help maintain Lihu’e as the economic and social hub of the island.

The groups, working with the Honolulu branch of the American Institute of Architects, have generated suggestions they hope will be implemented to help make Lihu’e a better place to live in the future.

Among them that could be added to the updating of the Lihu’e development plan one day:

– Create more green space around the core of Lihu’e town.

– Consolidating government and retail spaces to make better use of space within the corridor between the Lihu’e Civic Center and the Kauai War Memorial Convention Hall.

– Make areas more pedestrian-friendly. Relocating parking stalls to the edge of town and using shuttle busses to bring people to government and retail centers in the town’s core.

– Preserving open space as much as possible.

– Preserving the history of old buildings in Lihu’e.

The planing effort inspired by the AIA is intended to help bring back the economic and cultural identity of Lihu’e and a sense of community, according to David Ka’aha’aina Jr., an architect with Archipelago Architecture and Design of Honolulu.

Businesses may not open storefronts in downtown Lihu’e today because of the perception they can do more business in busy shopping centers or in other island areas with heavy tourist trade. Also, retail stores have fallen in their efforts to compete with retail giants like the Wal-Mart store and K-Mart.

If the trend continues, the town core of Lihu’e will wither and dry up, losing its viability as a center of commerce, Ka’aha’aina said.

The aim behind AIA and others groups on Kaua’i and O’ahu, all working on a volunteer basis at this point, is to forestall that day and come up with solutions that will help rejuvenate the Lihu’e area, Ka’aha’aina said.

The AIA-planning project was the subject of a meeting held at the Lihu’e Civic Center July 27. It was attended by top representatives of the AIA, American Society of Landscape Architects, the Hawaii branch of the American Planners Association, county officials and residents.

The meeting was sponsored by the Lihue Business Association and the Kaua’i Chamber of Commerce.

The recommendations from the AIA-planning project could be sent to a contractor the county eventually hires to update the development plan for Lihu’e, said Curtis Tom, vice president and Kaua’i district manager of the Bank of Hawaii and moderator for the Lihue Business Association.

The updating of the plan is vital, Tom and Ka’aha’aina said.

“If it stays the same for ten to 20 years, then for sure, the identity of the community will be lost,” Ka’aha’aina said.

Tom said that Lihu’e was a much smaller community 25 years go when the current Lihu’e development plan was implemented.

“There was no Wal-Mart. Kukui Grove (Shopping Center) wasn’t there,” he said. “Lihu’e is more spread out now.”

The AIA-inspired, planning project unfolded in March after Palmer Hafdahl, a member of the AIA Honolulu branch and a member of the Lihue Business Association, asked his AIA colleges in Honolulu how to go about improving E’iwa Street in Lihu’e.

It is the street that separates the historic County Building, the oldest operating government building in Hawai’i, and the Lihu’e Civic Center.

Ka’aha’aina said Hafdahl wanted to establish a process to revive the Lihu’e town core, culling input from “stockholders,” those that had a vested interest in the revival of LIhu’e town. Those parties include government, businesses and residents.

Discussion on the upgrading of E’iwa Street led to the birth of more lofty goals – improving Lihu’e town and surrounding areas.

Ka’aha’aina , a board member of the AIA branch in Honolulu, offered his help in this regard, with the Lihue Business Association pushing for the update of the Lihu’e land development plan.

During the final two weekends of June, three teams (two from O’ahu and one from Kaua’i) either worked on the project from Honolulu or solicited comments from Kaua’i residents.

The focus of the teams, comprised of 50 people, was to look at the current uses of the Lihu’e Civic Center and E’iwa Street and to make suggestions for their “renewal” or “growth,” Ka’aha’aina said.

The Kaua’i team raised these key recommendations:

– Strengthen the connection between Lihu’e town and Nawiliwili Harbor.

– Strengthen the connection between Rice Street and the Kukui Grove Shopping Center through Haleko Road.

– Make a connection between Lihu’e and Nawiliwili Stream.

– Possibly bring back the use of old sugar plantation trains.

For the Lihu’e Civi Center, the group noted:

– The project area is to include Kaumuali’i Highway to the west, Hardy Street to the north and east and Nawiliwili to the south.

– As a way to encourage more visitors and residents to visit it, the Lihu’e Civic Center should be fitted with modern art sculptures, water features and outdoor seating areas.

– The civic center should exhibit a strong sense of identify.

– More green space.

– Compact the city center to encourage walking.

– Solve parking problem at the civic center with a “park and walk” program.

– Solve traffic problems by aligning roads to improve circulation.

Tom said E’iwa Street is a perfect example of outdated road with diminishing effectiveness. Because parts of it ends at the intersection of Hardy Street, E’iwa Street doesn’t’ provided a clear path for motorists to reach Ahukini Road, a main street to the Lihu’e Airport, Tom said.

– Better restaurants are needed.

– Creation of a pedestrian and bicycle path connecting the Pua Loke subdivision and the civic center.

– Erection of exercise facilities with showers.

– Rebuild an old bandstand.

– Relocate existing ethnic memorials in a county park in front of the historic County Building.

The Kaua’i team listed favorite buildings, including the historic County Building, the Lihue Library, the Shell gas station on Kuhio Highway, the Lihue United Church, the Lihue Professional Building, Yoneji Store, homes on German Hill, the Episcopal Church and the old sugar mill.

Among the buildings the team liked least: The Lihu’e police station , the Lihue Credit Union building, the Big Save building and the Wal-Mart building.

Among what the Kaua’i team liked best about Lihu’e included the “small town feel,” the lawn in front of the historic County Building, the Hamura Saimin restaurant, Haleko Road and presence of an African Tulip Tree.

Among what they didn’t like about Lihu’e included: relocation of the Lihu’e Civic Center, the planning process, lack of bicycle lanes or racks, lack of roads between the Kukui Grove Shopping Center and Rice Street and the lack of connection between Lihu’e and the ahupua’a of Kalapaki and Nawiliwili.

One of the O’ahu teams also noted:

– The need to create the “heart of the city” around the civic center.

– The need to have the old mill area and Nawiliwili Harbor being anchored to the ahupua’a.

– The need to preserve the architectural designs of the old Lihue Plantation sugar mill and to possibly convert it into a learning center.

– The need for buffer zones .

– The need to create “gateway” projects from the Lihue Airport to town centers.

Other team members suggested the construction of a cultural center in front of the historic County Building and the relocation of Wilcox Elementary School to another area and use the school buildings for government offices.

As part of the planing effort, charrettes were used or developed. The process involved brainstorming and high-tech graphic designs that illustrate the look of potential improvements.

Ka’aha’aina said the work of the three teams is the first of many steps that may take years to “resolve and build,” and that it is not likely that all recommendations will be implemented, Ka’aha’aina said.

Implementation o the projects will require a long-term financial commitment from government and the private sector, Ka’aha’aina said.

Staff Writer Lester Chang be reached at mailto:lchang@pulitzer.net or 245-3681 (ext. 225).

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