WAILUKU - A grocery store in the heart of Wailuku town was the No. 1 request among those who participated in public workshops earlier this year to envision what the old town could be for the island's next generation.
"People really miss Ooka's (Super Market)," said County Planner Erin Wade, about the longtime large, family-owned store in town that closed in 2005. "(But) the model of Ooka's isn't going to work for Wailuku (now); it was too big of a market."
Wade said a more urban market model or a smaller-scale grocer similar to Pukalani Superette could work with its smaller store and prepared foods. Outdoor seating to partake in the prepared grinds is also envisioned for Wailuku.
David Yamashita (from left), Saedene Ota, Erin Wade, Kathleen Kern and Ashley Takitani of reWailuku pose in the Maui Thing clothing shop Friday afternoon in Wailuku. Wade, Yamashita and Kern are from the Maui County Planning Department and Ota and Takitani are from Maui Thing. All are involved in reWailuku, which seeks to “remember, reimagine and renew Wailuku.”
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
Wade said a good location for a market would be along Main Street, where the store would be visible to enough motorists passing by.
The idea for a market was one of the proposals discussed at a meeting April 9 that shared the findings of reWailuku, a grass-roots movement to envision the town's future.
Through workshops earlier this year, reWailuku attracted around 500 community members.
Ideas From the reWailuku Workshops
* Having a grocery store in town.
* Making Vineyard Street a "festival street" for events with walkable and accessible areas.
* Converting a piece of property at the corner of Vineyard and Church streets (on the side of the municipal parking lot) into a mixed-use area with public space for small events and a coffee shop or restaurant on the bottom and residential spaces on top.
* Making streets walkable by installing sidewalks.
* Converting an empty lot along Market and Main streets into an outdoor cafe, a restaurant or a bar.
* Encouraging more restaurants and retailers to set up shop in town.
* Distributing parking on smaller lots throughout the area.
For more information, visit rewailuku.com.
Many were interested in the overall concept, although Wade said there are some people who don't want Wailuku to change at all.
Participants remembered the town of old, which was once the hub of activity on the island, with hotels, grocery stores and other retail outlets, and imagined a revamped Wailuku. The objective of reWailuku is to provide clear direction for private investment, identify opportunities for partnerships, and define immediate and long-term capital improvement projects, according to its website.
Now reWailuku is to use the ideas gathered and move on to developing a plan that also would include a financial plan. Community outreach meetings will be held in about a month, Wade said.
The beginning work such as painting and clearing lots should begin within the next six months. More substantial improvements are expected to occur within 18 months, Wade said.
In addition to the community and the county Planning Department, the Wailuku Community Association and the Maui Redevelopment Agency are collaborating on the effort.
"It's not really about transformation. Wailuku is really an authentic place today," said Wade, the project coordinator. "It's more about creating a vision, how to re-enliven and renew Wailuku town, not to remake it but re-energize it."
Wade said there are a number of vacant and undeveloped lots in Wailuku that could be areas for new development and higher-density development, which would consist of commercial and retail spaces on first floors and residential spaces in floors above.
She added that people also want more outdoor gathering spaces and love the Wailuku First Friday event that has entertainment, and craft and food booths once a month along Market Street.
Although organizations and county administrations have tried to revitalize Wailuku town in the past with spotty success, Wade thinks that the current effort will be successful.
"I think there's sort of three elements that are different at this point. One is really the grass-roots outreach with this planning effort. It wasn't something we just did in-house. . . . In fact, I would say 90 percent of the material came from the community" as well as property owners and residents.
She added that reWailuku will also come up with a financial plan, as well as plans for projects and timelines.
There will also be brand development for Wailuku. Similar to stores at a mall that have the mall backing and branding, retailers in Wailuku will carry the Wailuku brand.
Wade said that in the past some revitalization efforts did not have all the grass-roots input nor did they find funding or help see the projects through. She added, too, that revitalization efforts don't happen overnight.
She gave Yuki Lei Sugimura, a community event organizer, credit for being a driving force for Wailuku's First Friday event.
Now people are conditioned to see and want an event in Wailuku town every month, Wade said.
"We are in a whole different position than 10 years ago," she said of the town's image and public interest in it.
The overall reWailuku efforts have received a thumbs up from residents and property owners.
Robert Joslin, owner of properties along Main Street across from Uptown Chevron, said he is very supportive of reWailuku's efforts.
In fact his vacant property on the Kahului side next to the Main Street Promenade is potentially the area where the small grocer could be located; Joslin is enthusiastic about that and said it could be a good magnet in town.
But he added that he didn't want to take away any business from Alvin Makimoto of Uptown Chevron, which has a convenience store and also sells some prepared food items across the street from his properties.
Wailuku resident and parent Rachel Heckscher, who is participating in the reWailuku efforts, said she fell in love with the area from the minute she first drove there while visiting seven years ago.
She hopes the town in the future will be safe and walkable with sidewalks and a blend of small businesses including a cafe, a bar, a small market where she can buy milk for a reasonable price as well as a farmers market, public arts, a bookstore, lots of trees and a small playground.
Heckscher, who also works for the state in Wailuku town, thinks the parking problem can be solved without constructing a big parking structure.
She also thinks that county and state workers should not park in the municipal lot all day and instead believes that area residents and even businesses would let workers park in their driveways for a small fee.
County officials said design work for a possible parking structure in Wailuku is close to being completed.
Wade said the parking structure project is being handled by the Public Works Department, although the structure was discussed at the workshops, with participants saying they didn't want a too-tall structure and would like it to be lined with retail spaces or restaurants.
Bob Horcajo, a Wailuku town property owner, said he thinks that reWailuku is a great process to re-engage the community since the Wailuku Redevelopment Plan and Zoning & Design Guidelines were completed more than a decade ago.
"The best thing to come out of (reWailuku) is that the administration is working on several temporary parking solutions on private properties to address the issue. The second best thing is that new voices seem willing to engage in the challenge in the continued revitalization of Wailuku town," Horcajo said.
"The bottom line is that most property owners and small businesses will make long-term investments only if they see the demand, and hope of a clear and predictable regulatory path. How one creates the demand is the challenge," he added.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at email@example.com.