Among the smaller items in the Maui County budget — which will far exceed half a BILLION dollars, we are not a small, rural place any more — but one close to Kamaaina Loan’s interests is the Iao Minipark (or whatever its final name turns out to be).
The historic Wailuku business district, which we are proud to be one of the oldest existing veterans of, was designed for horse-drawn buggies and walkers. North Market Street was not paved for many years. Then after World War II, everybody got wheels.
The county took a bold step, buying up several blocks and closing a couple of streets (alleys, really) to create the large Wailuku municipal parking lot. Since then, it’s been all downhill as far as parking has been concerned.
In other older places struggling to adapt to modern habits, the county has added significant public parking: a million-dollar lot in Makawao and a similar one in Paia. Presumably these are partially responsible for the full storefronts and higher commercial rents in those towns. (Having top drawer tourist draws helped, too, of course.)
Wailuku languishes. Commercial rents in Paia are about four times higher than in the North Market Street area.
Much follows from low rents. Non-profits, which are attracted by low rents, swarm in Wailuku but are absent from Paia and Makawao. In those “country towns,” merchants compete vigorously for shop space and there are few vacant buildings. There has been new construction in Paia and lots of investment in keeping up the old buildings in Makawao.
Not in Wailuku. Space goes begging and comparatively less sprucing up occurs. Green Lotus has recently upgraded and reopened a vacant gas station on Main Street that had been vacant for over a decade (despite having its own parking). Only one new-from-the-foundations building has gone up in our district in the past decade.
What construction has occurred has chipped away at our parking.
Now the county proposes to chip some more.
No question the vacant, unpaved lot between the Iao Theatre and our building (in which Maui Sporting Goods is a tenant) needs to be addressed. Right now, it provides nearly two dozen precious, in-the-middle-of-things parking spaces.
When rebuilt, paved and made to conform to 21st century codes, at least 10 stalls will disappear, maybe more.
The area lost at least 23 when North Market was gentrified. In our view, we have gotten down to a point where 10 or 12 fewer spaces is a really big deal.
Don’t get us wrong. We support the minipark, for safety reasons. People we know have stumbled and fallen and been injured there.
But the history of the county’s work in the historic business district has been to promise more parking and then not deliver. Before the devastating rebuilding of North Market, the business owners and managers were promised that before North Market was to be taken in hand, something would be done.
That something was prominently to be a parking garage on the municipal lot. Never happened. Nor did anything else.
People really do need parking. A big fraction of the activity in the area is governmental. The county’s own staff grows year by year, till it has overflowed the nine-story county building into the One Main Plaza building.
Those people don’t (for the most part) walk or bicycle to work. They drive. Then they park.
The Chinese used to practice a form of slow execution called the “death of a thousand cuts.” That’s what’s happening to business in Wailuku.
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