The removal of the banyan trees at Chinatown Gateway Park will cost $40,000, $460,000 less than an alternate proposal.

Removal of banyans
will save fountain

The trees at a Chinatown
park are also threatening
people, some say

The city will remove three downtown Honolulu banyan trees in a renovation of Chinatown Gateway Park starting this weekend.

The trees are being cut down because their roots are undermining the rock sculpture base on which the banyans sit.

"This has been a cause for major complaints for residents, for workers, for people who traverse in Chinatown, ever since we took office, about the fact that this particular park has been deteriorating," said Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann.

Another concern is that the banyan trees could topple onto surrounding buildings or people.

"If you look at the canopy, being that it's on false rock, it's not firm rock, the structural stability isn't great," said Wayne Hashiro, city Department of Design and Construction director.

A contractor was scheduled to remove the trees this morning. The city hopes to complete the renovation by October. The project is expected to cost less than $40,000.

In the past few years, the water pump under the waterfall has had frequent breakdowns, causing the park's pond water to stagnate. Trash, debris from the trees, dirt from the pond's collapsing edges and even human waste made the water smelly and unsightly.

"It didn't look good," Hashiro said.

After the latest breakdown in February, the city closed the park and drained the pond. City officials considered removing the waterfall, rebuilding the rock sculpture and filling in the pond with landscaping. Hannemann said he rejected that plan because the project would have cost $500,000.

Instead, the city consulted experts, including the original contractor, who determined that the tree roots had not damaged the pond and the waterfall could be saved after the trees are removed.

Hashiro said the age of the pump -- the park was completed in 1991-- and debris clogging the filters contributed to the breakdowns. He said the pump station was also a frequent target of vandals. The pump has been repaired, and plans call for security measures to discourage break-ins, Hashiro said.

Hannemann said the city hopes to convince owners of neighboring buildings and business, like Hawaii Theatre and Indigo restaurant, to contribute to the park's maintenance.

The utilities, labor and chemicals needed to maintain the park cost the city about $1,000 a month, said city spokesman Bill Brennan.

Indigo has contributed landscaping consultants and assisted when the pond was being tested for cracks, Hashiro said.

Hannemann said his administration will focus on making Honolulu's Chinatown a leading arts and culture center in the world.

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