Plan to close ‘Eiwa Street surfaces again

LIHU’E — The Lihu’e Civic Center (the area, not the former Lihue Shopping Center complex), the seat of county government, could become a place of fewer cars, more people walking on the streets, more green space and urban renewal, through a proposed, $23-million improvement plan, top county officials told island business leaders Wednesday.

The Lihu’e Civic Center Site Improvements Draft Master Plan, drafted by PBR Hawaii, an O’ahu-based consultant for the county, has proposed a first on Kaua’i: two, centrally-located parking lots, including the capacity for underground parking.

The plan calls for a dramatic change in the look of the town, and, again, proposes closing off ‘Eiwa Street (between the Lihu’e Civic Center complex and historic County Building) to vehicular traffic.

Such a step had been proposed during the administration of Mayor Maryanne Kusaka, but was abandoned after public opposition.

The facilities, if built, would allow the Lihu’e town core to become more “pedestrian-friendly,” and open the way for stronger community ties, county officials said.

The plan is perhaps the most comprehensive improvement plan for a Kaua’i town to date, county officials said. A final plan is pending, along with the execution of an environmental assessment.

The proposed, eight-phased project is to be developed when county and matching federal funds become available.

But county officials and more than 20 business people attending the Wednesday meeting of the rejuvenated Lihue Business Association were enthusiastic about getting the plan off the ground.

“We need government to have this type of vision, to step up to the plate to provide leadership,” said group participant, Tim Bynum, executive director of Leadership Kauai, a group that teaches island leaders how to become better leaders for the benefit of the community.

“I am very interested in the future of Lihu’e town, and to make it pedestrian-friendly,” said Bynum, who has announced plans to run for a seat on the Kaua’i County Council in this election year.

If implemented, the plan will “strengthen the future of Lihu’e,” said Doug Haigh, the Building Division chief with the Kaua’i County Department of Public Works.

“It is carrying on the vision of the county when it purchased the (Lihue) shopping center (which became the Lihu’e Civic Center) in the 1980s,” Haigh told The Garden Island.

The new plan, if implemented, also could stimulate orderly development of areas beyond the town’s core, Haigh said.

Joining Haigh in the morning presentation was Keith Nitta, a senior, long-range planner with the Kaua’i County Planning Department.

The Lihu’e Civic Center (the area, not the complex) is roughly a 16-acre, two-block area in the middle of Lihu’e town. The civic center is bordered by Kuhio Highway, Rice Street, Hardy Street and ‘Umi Street, and includes the historic County Building, County Building Annex, State Building, Lihu’e Civic Center complex (which includes several county offices and the Big Save store), Kaua’i Museum, and the abandoned former state courthouse building.

The historic County Building opened in 1912, and is the oldest operating government building in Hawai’i.

Some of the more important work is to take place around the Lihu’e Civic Center.

The three main buildings that make up the Lihu’e Civic center were once part of the Lihue Shopping Center, which was developed by Amfac.

Amfac once owned and operated Lihue Plantation Company, at one time among the largest and most prosperous sugar companies in Hawai’i.

County leaders purchased the buildings at the shopping center in 1989, and at one time looked at housing the Kaua’i Police Department in a section of the civic center that is home today to the Kaua’i County Planning Department and the Kaua’i County Finance Department.

As part of the first phase of the proposed master plan for the 17-acre civic center site, improvements on Hardy Street have become the top priority for planners, due in part to the potential availability of matching federal funds for the work at hand, the consultant noted in its report.

Parts of the report outlined key improvements:

  • Phase one is to be developed at a cost of $5.9 million, and calls for roadway and “streetscape” improvements along Hardy Street. Also planned is the development of a roundabout at the intersection of Hardy and ‘Umi streets. Plans also call for the removal of 57 parking stalls, placement of new plants and vegetation, and renovation of a shuttle stop and bus shelter;
  • Phase two calls for the renovation of parking lots by the State Building and county buildings, and the closure of ‘Eiwa Street to vehicular traffic. The parking lots will be reconfigured to accommodate 131 parking stalls. In addition, trees that must be removed will be replanted within the Lihu’e Civic Center area, the consultant recommended. The estimated construction cost for this phase is $832,000;
  • Phase three calls for the closing of ‘Eiwa Street, an idea that surfaced when current Kaua’i County Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura and Maryanne Kusaka were mayors of the island. They, too, wanted to see fewer cars between the Lihu’e Civic Center and the historic County Building, and more interaction among people, including government workers. The idea, however, fell to the In some cases, motorists said keeping the street open would facilitate traffic flow thorough Lihu’e. The third phase also calls for landscaping for the planned expansion of the lawn in front of the historic County Building. The larger lawn would open the way up for more festivals and government and community functions there. This phase also will include the construction of a pedestrian promenade linking the Lihu’e Civic Center and the historic County Building. Also, 25 parking stalls are to be located at the northern end of ‘Eiwa Street. The estimated cost for the work is $1.4 million;
  • Phase four envisions the construction of a parking lot, with one level of parking underground, at the intersection of Hardy Street and Kuhio Highway, mauka of the highway. The proposed parking-lot project calls for 175 parking stalls on the surface and another 70 stalls underground. If cost is a consideration in building the two-level facility, county leaders can have the surface part built first, and have the underground parking stalls built later, the consultant said. The estimated cost for the fourth phase was $5.3 million;
  • Phase five involves the restoration of the historic County Building lawn and expansion in a westerly direction. The project includes the removal of 25 parking stalls north of the building, and construction of the promenade. The cost for this phase was estimated at about $700,000;
  • Phase six calls for the construction of a new “central park,” and another underground parking structure, which would add 150 new parking stalls. The cost for the work was estimated at nearly $8 million. The consultant said an alternative would be to build the two-level parking structure at a cost of about $5 million;
  • Phase seven calls for the realignment of a driveway to allow for a 63-stall parking lot on Rice Street. The work would be done at a cost of $980,000;
  • Phase eight involves landscaping improvements around parts of the Lihu’e Civic Center at a cost of $220,000.

The consultants developed a plan to consolidate parking of vehicles as much as possible.

Some residents who attended meetings on the future of Lihu’e town in the past complained parking spaces were spread out too far away from offices, the post office and businesses. As a result, they chose to drive rather than walk around Lihu’e town.

By the time all eight project phases are built out, there will be 679 parking stalls for use in the Lihu’e town core.

In other matters, Haigh reported that the owners of the Big Save store have decided to continue their market operations at the Lihu’e Civic Center.

The 7-year lease held by members of the Kawakami family expired in 2005, but the owners renegotiated another lease that runs until 2010.

When the lease ends at that time, it will be put out to bid, as required by county law, Haigh said.

  • Lester Chang, staff writer, may be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) or by last month’s torrential rains and further because of the planned maintenance work, would not be open for public camping anytime this summer.

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