Project coordinators say a plan to revitalize Lahaina's harbor area would make it safer and cater to "pedestrians first."
Maui County granted the Lahaina Restoration Foundation $750,000 earlier this year for a series of improvement projects. These include redesigning sidewalks, crosswalks and roadways to be more pedestrian-friendly; installing interpretive plaques, benches and lighting that share information about Lahaina's culture and history; and planting native plants along the area fronting the harbor.
"One of our biggest concepts is pedestrians first," Lahaina Restoration Foundation Executive Director Theo Morrison said. "We're not shutting down streets or anything, but we're giving pedestrians a priority because the highest use in that area is for pedestrians, (even though) it's not designed that way."
Boats sit idle in Lahaina Harbor recently. A project to revitalize the harbor area would make it safer and cater to “pedestrians first.” The planning work by the Lahaina Restoration Foundation is funded by a $750,000 Maui County grant. Plans include redesigning sidewalks, crosswalks and roadways to be more pedestrian-friendly; installing interpretive plaques, benches and lighting that share information about Lahaina’s culture and history; and planting native plants along the area fronting the harbor.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
The permitting, planning and design process, which is expected to take about a year, began last month, Morrison said. Construction is slated to start in July.
"The completion of this project will bring reverence to important cultural sites, educate residents and visitors about Lahaina's history, dramatically improve the appearance and safety of the harbor front and will spur economic activity in the surrounding area," Morrison said in a follow-up email.
Other major project components include installing a shade trellis waiting area on the makai side of Wharf Street; building a thatched roof hale over the existing foundation of the Brick Palace historic site; creating a pedestrian promenade around the oceanfront perimeter of the library lawn; and restoring a portion of King Kamehameha's royal taro patch.
"The harbor front is the heart of Lahaina and was once the vibrant focal point of life in the community. It was a place where residents came to surf, boat, fish, swim, talk story and enjoy the ambience," according to an interpretive plan published last year on the foundation's website.
"Over the years, it has slowly transformed into a focal point for generic tourism, a hangout for homeless people and an area not appealing to either residents or visitors," the plan said.
The foundation coordinated a series of community meetings over the course of nine months beginning in August 2012 to gather feedback from residents about what they'd like to see improved at the harbor front.
What eventually resulted from the "IMAGINE" meetings was a comprehensive plan. Community members presented it to county officials this year in their request for funding.
Morrison said that the funds obtained so far will cover only the first phase of the project, and a second and final phase would likely cost an additional $1.5 million. That second phase would involve widening sidewalks and crosswalks on Hotel Street along Banyan Tree Park, creating the pedestrian promenade around the library lawn and hiring a harbor ambassador to regulate traffic flow at the harbor during peak traffic hours.
Morrison said one of the few concerns raised during the meetings was about parking - the harbor-front improvement plan eliminates 19 existing parking stalls on Hotel, Papalekane and Market streets. Morrison said that additional parking would be designated or leased in an area near the project site before any parking is removed, though the stalls would likely be a few blocks farther away from the harbor.
Last month, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources announced plans to build a new 20-foot-wide ferry pier north of the existing pier at Lahaina Small Boat Harbor. The pier project includes plans to improve the passenger loading area and expand the sidewalk along Hotel Street. Construction on that project is not slated to begin until 2017.
Morrison said that the foundation "hopes to collaborate with DLNR on shore-side improvements."
Mayor Alan Arakawa, who set aside funding for the harbor-front project in his budget proposal, said he is "pleased that we can partner . . . to create an area that puts the pedestrian first and complements the unique history of Lahaina Harbor."
"These improvements will take care of our ferry commuters by providing them accessible drop-off facilities and shady places to wait for their ferry. It simultaneously improves the experience for the visitor and allows us to tell the story of Lahaina with improved signage, landscaping and a historical walking tour," Arakawa said.
Perhaps one of the most critical historic elements of the project - and one that is indeed at the top of the foundation's priority list - is the restoration of King Kamehameha's taro patch.
"In order for this chief of Hawaii Island (King Kamehameha I) to gain the trust of the Maui people, he . . . would prostrate himself in public to show a sign of a chief that was willing to labor and tend to the needs of his people," said Hawaiian cultural practitioner Ke'eaumoku Kapu, who has been involved in the harbor area improvement project.
Maui Friends of the Library had long sought to transform its grounds into a botanical garden where visitors can learn about native plants such as kalo, or taro. The group is working with the foundation to plant dry kalo and other indigenous plants as part of the harbor area improvement project.
"As we went forward, it made sense to pull this all together into one plan. It's all sitting right there in the same area, and the landscaping for the library will be such a tremendous change," said Sara Foley, Maui Friends of the Library board member.
"This will be something that people can see and enjoy and have for years. We're very excited about this project," Foley said.
The foundation also received a $5,000 donation from the O L Moore Foundation Hawaiian Trust Co. as well as a $10,000 contribution from an anonymous donor.
* Eileen Chao can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.