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Monday, January 31, 2000

By Ken Ige, Star-Bulletin
The familiar site of the sugar mill in Aiea is no more.
But Aiea Community Association President Claire
Tamamoto is spearheading a fight to save the site for
a community center. She and others hope to garner
support at a meeting tonight with Mayor Jeremy
Harris at the Alvah Scott Elementary School.

Residents see
community center
at mill site

The Aiea-Pearl City vision
team has plans for a park,
library and elder care

By Leila Fujimori


When she looks at the vacant lot where the Aiea Sugar Mill once stood, Claire Tamamoto sees a community center with a library, a park and amphitheatre, a culture and arts center and an elder care facility.

Volunteer architects and planners helped Tamamoto and other members of the Aiea-Pearl City vision team put their plans on paper.

"The community grew up around the mill, and the groups want to restore it as the center of the community," said member David Arakawa, who is also city corporation counsel.

The plans include a proposal to relocate the Aiea Public Library, which has outgrown the current facility, to the mill property.

The team's strategy is first to acquire a portion of the land for $5 million. Eventually it hopes to acquire the entire property at a total cost of $12 million. The team says it has not yet estimated the cost of construction.

The team wants to use $1.1 million of the $2 million the city allocates for the visioning project for the land purchase and has asked the mayor for the additional $3.9 million.

"I do think it's a feasible project," said Mayor Jeremy Harris. "The community deserves a great deal of credit for developing a vision for their neighborhood's future."

But landowner Crazy Shirts already has other potential buyers lined up -- products distributors, a snack and baked goods manufacturer, a contractor and an auto repair shop, said the company's consultant and sales manager Joel Criz.

Five of the 14 lots are already in escrow and five more probably will go into escrow as early as today, Criz said.

Owner Rick Ralston bought the mill in 1994, hoping to refurbish the mill and turn it into the corporate headquarters for Crazy Shirts. But the cost turned out to be too high.

After a two-year search for a buyer interested in preserving the historic structure, Ralston razed the 100-year-old mill and its familiar smokestack last February. Then he graded the property to make it more attractive to prospective buyers.

Ralston wants to recoup some of the $23 million for the property -- the purchase price, environmental cleanup, demolition and grading -- by selling it off in 15 pieces, 14 zoned for industrial use and one three-acre parcel for residential lots. Crazy Shirts has applied to the city to downzone the parcel on Kulawea Street for residential or similar use. So far, no lots have been sold.

"The property is smack dab in the middle of the community with schoolchildren and seniors," said Gary Okino, vice president of the Aiea Community Association. "When you plan things, you don't put industrial in a residential area," said Okino, a city planner. He said heavy industrial trucks would be dangerous and discourage pedestrian traffic.

Tamamoto and her group remain optimistic. She hopes the community will support their proposal at the vision team meeting with the mayor at Alvah Scott Elementary School tonight at 7 p.m.

Despite past disappointment when the mill and its smokestack came down, the group still hopes to preserve the site for their community.

E-mail to City Desk

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