Kealakehe park plan gathers steam
KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii » A local nonprofit volunteer organization has big plans for a swath of land north of Kailua-Kona.
The Kealakehe Ahupuaa 2020 Foundation is proposing to turn more than 200 acres of land between Honokohau Harbor and Kealakehe High School into a public cultural park that would include an educational center, a botanical/horticultural display garden, research facilities, restaurants and an amphitheater.
A county plan to turn the land into a municipal golf course that would have used processed waste water from the adjacent treatment plant has been stalled for more than a decade.
David Kawika Marquez, executive director of the foundation, said his group's proposed project would be a better use of the land. The plan has been garnering positive feedback from the community, as well as county and state officials, he said.
"The momentum is picking up," Marquez said. "The opportunities have endless potential. We want it to be a centerpiece for West Hawaii's future."
The plan focuses on showcasing Hawaii's diverse plant life, with a display garden helping to support the nurseries and research facilities.
Research opportunities abound in botany, environmental science, horticulture and related fields, Marquez said.
"We want to create an environment for endangered plants to propagate," he said.
In addition to the botanical/horticultural elements, Marquez said the complex would include such revenue-generating operations as a conference center, pavilion, retail center and a teaching restaurant for culinary students to gain professional experience.
The amphitheater could also host concerts and theatrical performances that otherwise might not be presented to the West Hawaii community, he said. The conference center and pavilion could be used to conduct classes and demonstrations focused on native Hawaiian activities and history.
Classes and programs could be designed for visitors, residents, school-age children and advanced researchers in varied fields, he said.
The Department of Hawaiian Home Lands has plans to expand its Villages of Laiopua, just east of the park, and three schools also are in the vicinity, Marquez said, making it an ideal site to marry educational and cultural activities.
"We see it as a win-win situation," he said. "There are any number of opportunities."
Initial costs are estimated at about $20 million, but breaking it into several phases will limit the financial strain.
While the foundation already has secured some financial backing, Marquez said other grants, matching funds and private investors are being sought.
"We want it to be self-sustaining within 10 years," he said.
The foundation envisions breaking ground in 2010 and completion by 2012. Visitors are estimated to number 60,000 for the first year and eventually top 400,000.
Hawaii County Councilman Angel Pilago, who represents the Kealakehe area and is a longtime conservation advocate, said he is eager to see the foundation's final plan.
"I would like to see a community park, maybe in a partnership with the county or some other entity," Pilago said. "Any time we can utilize our open space for the community, it's a good thing."