LIHUE — Jim Guerber opened Thursday’s Lihue Business Association meeting asking people to share their perspectives on Rice Street.
“Some of you have businesses on Rice Street,” he said. “I think you all have visions of what that means.”
The dream of revitalizing Lihue’s key corridor is alive and well. Hopes are high it will continue to grow, thanks in part to the success of Guerber’s Kauai Beer Company.
Some were positive about what the future could hold for the area. They spoke of small towns in California, Washington state and Italy, where there are successful mixes of businesses and residential homes, and where people shop, dine and live.
Larry Feinstein pointed to the $15.1 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation for Lihue revitalization, and two block parties that attracted thousands, as examples of the promise of Rice Street.
Plans are underway to renovate Kalena Park, too.
“We have the makings of a design. We’re fleshing it out now. It will be an urban showcase,” Feinstein said. “The price tag will be rather high, which is not shocking. It will require a public/private effort to make it happen.”
He said Rice Street could be “a wonderful story.”
“Clearly, there is life on Rice Street,” he said.
Others weren’t so sure.
Marji Dente asked whatever came of the former site of the Salvation Army store, which still sits vacant with boards decorated by murals, more than two years after it was sold.
“What’s going on there? Does anyone know?” she asked.
Guerber said he hasn’t seen anything happen there for months. He said he would love to see some sort of market there with art studios, an art store, a coffee shop, or restaurant.
But no one knew of a timeline anything might happen.
David Pratt, area property owner, said the stretch from Ha Coffee Bar to the Rice Shopping Center is critical. He hopes to see more people walking, shopping and living there.
“That, to me, is the future,” he said.
Guerber said affordable housing is an issue that must be part of the collective vision for Rice Street.
“Our people are having a hard time finding anyplace to live on this island,” he said.
Millennials, young professional singles or couples, need one- and two-bedroom homes, he said.
“We have such a need for small housing units,” Guerber said. “Unfortunately, it’s not economical to build those.”
Luke Evslin, Kauai County councilman, recently moved to Lihue and loves that he can walk to where he needs to go, be it work, yoga or the brewery, in a few minutes.
He and councilman Mason Chock are working on bills to reduce costs and allow more Additional Rental Units in the Lihue Town Core. Bill 2745 would increase the density to R-80, or 80 units per acre, which would double it.
“We need to do everything we can to try to reduce the cost of building in this area,” Evslin said.
Some fear what that might do to the area’s rural character. Others believe it could lead to easing height restrictions, which some are against.
Pat Griffin, LBA president, said the community wants unique towns separated by open space.
“If we don’t increase density, we’re going to continue to get sprawl,” she said.
Randy Blake with Kauai Path said businesses should plan to accommodate bicycles — soon — as that is the preferred mode of short-distance travel by millennials, who like to live near work.
“I think Rice Street is going to see an increase in bicycle traffic,” he said.
Andy Oda, who lives on Rice Street with his wife and children, said while he appreciated the plans for the area, there was one subject that had to be addressed: homelessness.
“That’s the biggest thing in us wanting to move out of Rice Street,” he said.
Oda said he grew up on Kauai and loves the convenience of living in Lihue. But he sees what happens on Rice Street and at Kalena Park 24/7, and he must always be vigilant.
“It’s just really taxing,” he said.
He often has to call the police and they don’t take their children to the park. It is becoming a dangerous situation, he said.
“I don’t mean to be a downer, but that’s the truth,” Oda said at the hour-long meeting at Duke’s Canoe Club.
He urged LBA members to work together to find a solution and also to recognize young families live and work and attend school in the area, too.
“Just don’t forget about us,” he said.
Guerber said they wouldn’t.
“You guys are the people we really want to please with what we’re doing here,” he said.