Friday, January 1, 1999

Can new mayor bring
growth to Maui County?

Jobs in construction and agriculture
have declined in the last several years

By Gary T. Kubota


WAILUKU -- Susanne Hotta looks at the vacant storefronts in Wailuku and remembers when the town was the hub of Maui commerce with drugstores, film theaters and restaurants.

Her business, Gilbert's Formal Wear, founded in 1949, is one of the few that has survived, and she hopes the new county administration will do something to revitalize Wailuku and bring back the night life.

"There's nothing at night," she said. "It's all dark over here."

As James "Kimo" Apana prepares to be sworn in as Maui County mayor tomorrow, many residents are hoping for better economic times.

The ceremony will be at 8 a.m. in the mayor's lounge in the County Building in Wailuku. A public celebration will take place from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Kahului Shopping Center.

The Council will be sworn in at 10 a.m. in the Council Chambers.

Apana, 36, will become the youngest mayor in Maui County history.

He will also be facing a county with wide disparity in economic growth.

While Maui County's job growth has led all other counties in the state, especially in tourism, not all sectors of its economy have been touched by expansion.

Jobs in construction and agriculture on Maui have declined in the last several years.

A number of residents are hoping Apana is able to help rural areas such as Hana, where the economy has stalled, and old towns, such as the county seat of Wailuku, which need economic revitalization.

While Wailuku restaurants are busy during the day catering to state, federal and county workers, many are slow at night.

Velma Santos, a board member of the Wailuku Main Street Association, said she hopes Apana's administration will assist in the development of Wailuku improvements to attract a stronger mix of businesses.

One improvement supported by the association is the development of a multitier parking facility at the county's parking lot.

"I think parking will entice some of the landowners to make some of the necessary improvements so we can attract a different mix," she said.

Merchants in Lahaina hope Apana will help to improve services to visitors arriving by ships in a budding cruise industry.

In 1998 there were 58 days in which ships anchored off Lahaina Harbor let passengers spend the day in town, and the number of days is growing along with the harbor traffic.

Richard Kehoe, president of the Lahaina Town Action Committee, said merchants also want the county to reduce unnecessary costs, such as requiring them to provide a certain number of stalls for parking.

Kehoe said some businesses have been required to rent parking stalls that aren't used most of the time by their clients and add to the cost of doing business.

Committee Vice President Allan Litman said the county also needs to step up enforcement of ordinances to prevent illegal time-share sales on Lahaina streets.

Molokai residents, facing the highest unemployment of any Hawaii island, say they'd like to see Apana encourage job growth.

Colette Machado, a Molokai resident and a state Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee, said she wants the growth tied to the Hawaiian cultural lifestyle, such as the development of fishponds.

Machado, who grows seaweed in a fishpond for commercial sale, said Apana should help small businesses and not just large enterprises such as Molokai Ranch.

Hana residents hope Apana will be able to meet with the owner of Hana Ranch on how to encourage the growth of businesses there.

Harry Hasegawa, president of Hasegawa General Store Inc., said Japan's stalled economy has affected the Japanese owner of the ranch, the largest private landowner in Hana.

"Everything is in limbo," Hasegawa said. "I don't know how Kimo and his administration can help -- but who knows?"

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