Businesses push Kailua-Kona face lift
The county kicks in $60,000 to boost the improvement effort
KAILUA-KONA » Inspired by success in Waikiki, Kona's business leaders hope to provide an aesthetic and economic boost through the newly formed Kailua Village Business Improvement District.
The plan is to enhance cleanliness and safety, and restore some of the old fishing village's ambience with such features as landscaping and tiki torches lining Alii Drive.
"Clean and safe are the buzzwords," said Debbie Baker, the group's executive director. "There are some areas that would definitely benefit from being cleaner and safer. We want to make Kailua more livable, more workable and a place where residents and visitors want to spend their time."
The business improvement district is the first on the Big Island and follows the example of Waikiki and Fort Street Mall on Oahu. Eric von Platen Luder, a local restaurant owner and president of the Kona Kohala Chamber of Commerce, spearheaded the idea and serves as the group's president.
The county chipped in $60,000 to kick-start the project, and the two Kona councilmembers sit on the 15-member board.
"There is a new mood and a new attitude coming from this group," Councilman Angel Pilago said. "I'm very pleased the business people and concerned citizens are coming together for a consistent and maintained effort. We've really turned the corner."
The board, which met for the first time two weeks ago, set the goal of making a difference by the end of the year.
"This really was prompted by the realization that Kailua village is at a crossroads," Baker said. "To make improvements and enhancements now will be much less expensive than in 10 years."
In order to pay for more maintenance, additional lighting, security details, new landscaping and other beautification projects, landowners will be assessed a fee based on real property taxes.
The board of directors has not yet announced a formula for assessing the fee, but wants to begin collecting moneys after the county issues real-property tax bills in August.
The group also is pursuing nonprofit status, which would open the door to grants from the state and federal governments as well as private foundations.
Before asking property owners and business owners to chip in to the fund, the group still needs to settle on clear boundaries.
The area likely will encompass downtown Kailua from the Royal Kona Resort to the south and the Queen Liliuokalani Trust land to the north. It also will stretch from Kailua Pier inland three blocks to include the Makalapua and Crossroads shopping centers.
Different zones within the area might be designated to better cater services, Baker said. For example, Alii Drive is dotted with restaurants, shops and four hotels and needs to focus on pedestrians. The Old Industrial Area, with its hardware stores and auto body shops, does not see as much foot traffic.
Marie Aguilar, who has co-owned Eclectic Craftsman jewelry and art gallery off Alii Drive for more than 12 years, said the area has suffered at times from drug activity and has several spots that are frequented by the homeless and "seedy fellows."
A recent spike in burglaries has brought a crackdown by police, which has stemmed illegal activity.
"I wouldn't say that is our biggest problem," she said, adding the focus will be on the village's overall appearance and atmosphere.
"We are anxious to restore the village's ambience and create a warm and refreshing visitor destination," said Aguilar, the Kailua Merchant Association president. "The village was falling into disrepair, and this will encourage everyone to make it a welcoming place."