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Puna Kai work continues

Despite the developer’s assurance last fall that many retailers in the Puna Kai shopping center would be open by Thanksgiving, work is still underway on the Pahoa project.

“… From the standing start, we’ve built a sewer plant, did site work, satisfied the county and put the structures up in two years, and to my knowledge, no one has ever built a 130,000-foot shopping center with a sewer plant within two years from the day they bought the land,” developer Gary Pinkston said.

“That being said, with 39 tenants, we are finishing all the tenant improvements to get them moved in,” he continued. “We’ve had typical delays in materials and getting finally completed, but we will start opening space in February. The entire center will be opened by May.”

Pinkston said temporary certificates of occupancy were “being signed off (on) as we speak,” which would allow tenants to complete certain improvements.

County Department of Public Works spokeswoman Denise Laitinen said in a recent email that no certificates of occupancy, which are issued for every new tenant prior to opening, have been issued for any business within the Puna Kai development.

“All reviewing departments require that the necessary improvements are complete, or nearly so, prior to signing this application,” Laitinen said. “ … A request must come from the contractor so ‘when’ is determined by the construction schedules, but must be completed prior to opening.”

A temporary certificate of occupancy typically comes after the application for occupancy has been signed by all departments after the “substantial completion” of a project, she explained in a followup email, but there could be issues or items not completed, and the Building Division can be asked to allow temporary occupancy while the remainder of those items are addressed.

“Currently, there are a few tenants at Puna Kai that are nearing completion, so the applications are likely being signed ‘as we speak,’ but have not been forwarded to our office for consideration of temporary occupancy,” Laitinen said Tuesday.

According to a January Puna Kai newsletter, the construction team is waiting on final inspections for tenants to occupy Hilo Bay Realty, Supercuts and Fitness Forever.

Nearly 60 permits for the project have been issued between August 2018 and Dec. 19, according to permitting information on the county’s Real Property Tax Office website.

Plumbing, building and electrical permits have been issued for work including the construction of a new retaining wall, plumbing work, the demolition of existing permitted and unpermitted dwellings on the property, building shells, a wastewater treatment plant system and tenant improvements.

Laitinen said seven permit applications are still in review, and two more are ready to issue.

She did not elaborate on what those permits are for, and said such applications are not made public until the permit is issued.

About a dozen electrical, plumbing and demolition permits have been marked as inspected and completed.

No permits have been issued for “Building G,” which will house McDonald’s.

But because McDonald’s is a “ground lease,” Pinkston said he’s only responsible for providing the pad for the restaurant chain to build on, which was turned over in September.

According to the available permitting information, some work was started prior to permits being obtained.

Laitinen said work begun without a permit was “allowed to assist with the economic recovery of the Puna district following the (2018) lava events. Fees and fines were still imposed per the building, plumbing and electrical codes as usual.”

“We convey our apologies for not getting open earlier, but no one wants this open more quickly than myself,” Pinkston said. “We have had some delays, but the county has been outstanding in allowing us … to do some work before (some permits) were fully issued.”

Pinkston said, too, that the development also has received the OK to operate the private sewer plant, permits for which he said were received from both the state and the county, and tests have already been done.

Despite the delays, Pinkston said the development has not lost one tenant.

“The developer, architect and contractor have all been very responsive and work well with our staff,” Laitinen said. “The only delay so far has been related to conflicts with sign conformance within the Pahoa design review district.”

Puna Kai has been in the works in Pahoa since at least 2013, when planners first began to develop the shopping center.

Sitting on 9.93 acres near Kahakai Boulevard and Pahoa Village Road, Puna Kai will feature retail, office, dining and entertainment space.

The development will be anchored by the 35,000-square-foot Malama Market, which will relocate from its current site in Pahoa.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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