Refuse spills from an overflowing garbage can as people pass along Alii Drive in Kailua-Kona. Alii Drive, the main visitor strip in Kailua-Kona, is where community leaders are working to establish the Big Island's first business improvement district.
Kailua-Kona community bands together to roll back blight
KAILUA-KONA » By springtime, Kailua Village may already have a spring cleanup well under way.
The Kailua Village Business Improvement District, after four years of planning and preparation, was approved unanimously by the County Council recently.
"Kailua Village is at a crossroads," said Eric von Platen Luder, who helped lead the Kailua Village effort. "We can assess ourselves now and recover the gem that was once a proud seaside village with an astounding heritage. Or we can choose to keep the things status quo and sadly watch our village further deteriorate."
First on the list of improvements are safety and cleanliness.
Business owners and residents have become frustrated by blatant drug activity and related problems, such as property crime, violence, homelessness and litter.
Some older buildings are in disrepair, public areas are run down and vagrants pester pedestrians.
"The real work begins now," he said. "We have the opportunity to make a difference."
Residents had a list of complaints and anecdotes.
One woman's San Francisco police officer son-in-law was offered illegal drugs repeatedly along Alii Drive; one man visiting relatives was advised by hotel employees not to go into Kailua Village as it is not safe; restaurant and bar employees fear walking alone to their cars after work; pedestrians are forced into the roadway to avoid cracks and unsafe sidewalk paving; and an online chat forum cautioned against visiting the village after dark.
District organizers hope those stories will be a thing of the past.
Once Mayor Harry Kim signs off on it -- which is expected shortly -- an election will be held to seat a board of directors and bidding will start on contracts for 24-hour security services and additional janitorial services.
The nonprofit improvement district, which is the first on the Big Island and follows the examples of Waikiki and Fort Street Mall on Oahu, will have a first-year budget of $780,000. It does not replace county services, but supplements them. Residents and businesses will be assessed a fee based on property values.
While the concept dates back almost a decade, von Platen Luder, a former Kona Kohala Chamber of Commerce president and longtime Kailua-Kona restaurateur, said the community got serious about cleaning up the village in 2003.
The county offered up $60,000 in seed money and a 15-member board got to work, culminating in the Council's official seal of approval this week.
Kona Councilman Angel Pilago, who has supported the effort from the beginning, said he is satisfied the final draft addresses residents' concerns about escalating assessment fees, accountability and transparency.
"It's deemed to be a very important project by everybody. The final bill ensures everything will be measured, scheduled and there will be a review process," he said. "This is the beginning of a new way of planning. It opens up the way for lots of communities to address quality of life issues."
The Kailua Village district is modeled closely on the Waikiki Improvement District.
Approved by the Honolulu City Council in 2000, the Waikiki group set about constructing a police substation, cracking down on prostitution and street performers and beautifying entry points into the world famous resort destination, which led to investment by Outrigger Resorts and Donald Trump.
Also in Honolulu, Fort Street Mall kicked off the state's second effort in 2002. It led to a safer, cleaner area, attracted more public activities and resulted in increased business.
One of the most notable early improvement districts targeted New York City's Times Square, which in the early 1990s was just as famous for its pornography, pickpockets and prostitutes as for its nearby Broadway theaters.
Since its initiative, crime has been halved, homelessness has dropped and the hotel rooms now claim some of the city's highest occupancy rates.