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Pay to park in downtown Hilo? Proposed project would help fund area revitalization

Paid parking and other changes could be coming to downtown Hilo under a proposed model for a Business Improvement District.

The County Council Finance Committee next week will consider a bill that would create the Downtown Hilo Business Improvement District, a long-discussed yet often-delayed project that would generate additional funds for services to revitalize a large section of downtown Hilo.

As presented in the proposal, the district would comprise the area bordered by Kamehameha Avenue, Ululani Street, Wailuku Drive and Ponahawai Street, although some properties within that area would be exempt from the district.

Within that area, financial assessments would be levied at each eligible parcel, the payment of which would fund beautification efforts and security services for the entire district, said county Managing Director Roy Takemoto, the primary architect of the project.

“It’s a way for downtown business owners to self-govern,” Takemoto said.

Takemoto said the proposed district is modeled in part on a similar district supporting an area of Kailua-Kona, although he said there are some key differences. Because property values are so different between the two towns, Takemoto said, the Hilo district would supplement its funds through other means: namely, paid parking.

“I know people are going to have a knee-jerk reaction to paid parking,” Takemoto said. “But the technology is better now. It’s not just parking meters anymore … this is parking in the 21st century.”

For example, Takemoto said, the paid parking system could be entirely electronic, and allow customers of downtown businesses to have their parking validated with their purchases.

Based on the proposal’s first-year budget, the parcel assessments — the proposal suggests yearly assessments of $500 per parcel, although that sum could change, Takemoto said — would generate $91,500 in the first year, and $50,000 would be spent implementing the paid parking plan. After the parking plan is set up and parking revenues begin coming in, Takemoto said the yearly assessments could be reduced.

So far, Takemoto said the proposal has been discussed informally with some downtown business and property owners over the years, but has not yet been the subject of an official public meeting.

However, Megan Isaac, owner of downtown business Lotus Garden Hilo, said she has followed the discussion for several years but is skeptical of this particular plan.

“I fully and wholeheartedly support more community investment for downtown,” Isaac said. “But it would be more reassuring to me if there seemed to be a more positive culture about developing a good business environment here.”

Isaac said that, at least before the pandemic, downtown businesses were already losing local customers to Prince Kuhio Plaza, something she expects to worsen if the county implements paid parking.

Isaac lamented that the Downtown Hilo Multimodal Master Plan, a more dramatic — and expensive — plan to revitalize downtown Hilo that was published in 2018, has not seen more support by the county, despite positive reception from the downtown business community.

“It seems a pity that we haven’t seen more leadership from the county acknowledging that this part of town needs help,” Isaac said.

Nonetheless, Takemoto said the district board will have discretion to pursue any or all aspects of the Multimodal Master Plan as it sees fit.

That said, it might still be some time before the downtown district can be established. Takemoto said the county code requires the county to discuss the district with affected business and property owners between 30-90 days of the bill’s first reading at council — however, Tuesday’s meeting is only a committee meeting and will not trigger that next phase of the process.

Council Chairman Aaron Chung said he intends to postpone the bill at Tuesday’s hearing to allow for further discussion and eventually forward it to the full council sometime next year. The Tuesday hearing, Chung said, is an opportunity for Takemoto to present his bill before he steps down as managing director when the county administration changes next month.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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