HILO, Hawaii – The new mayor has put a halt to the ballpark planned for Kukuihaele park.
Harry Kim said he made the decision because the park “is not worth the community polarizing.”
The baseball diamond was the central feature of a $5 million redevelopment of the park, situated in the middle of quiet Kukuihaele village.
The ballpark project had the support of the previous administration under Mayor Billy Kenoi, as well as Hamakua councilwoman Valerie Poindexter and many others who hoped the new field would alleviate crowding at other nearby baseball facilities.
Those against the project said the baseball field would bring too much traffic to their neighborhood, would overburden the village infrastructure, and would forever change the open-field park they preferred.
After taking over as the county’s top executive in December, Mayor Kim said he planned take a look at the controversial project right away.
At a January 10th community meeting about the park held in Honoka’a, the mayor announced the baseball field – along with the bleachers and dugouts – would be removed from the plan.
The Honoka’a High School Cafeteria was full of supporters and opponents of the baseball field. Kim’s announcement drew cheers, but the mayor admits many in the audience were not happy with the change in plans.
“I wouldn’t classify it as tense,” Mayor Kim said of the meeting during a video interview recorded a few days later on the lanai of his Hilo office. “But in regards to a difference of opinion, oh yes. There were some people there that tried to get other sides to understand: please know that there are people in this room that have wanted and dreamt of a baseball field there, for their kids, for years.”
“For me to come in now and say there would be no baseball field, but a community park, obviously there’s gonna be major disappointment and they expressed that,” Kim said.
Kim said the county will now pursue a playground instead. A playground has always been a part of the discussion, and was supported by many of those who rejected the ballpark plan.
During the January 10th Honoka’a meeting, Parks and Rec official James Komata said the change will not save the county any money. In fact, Komata said, it could end up costing a little more.
“That’s one of the things I got to consider”, Mayor Kim said of the cost. “The contract was made, the contract was in full. I checked with the attorneys. And if I take away without adding, its OK.”
After taking away the main baseball features, Kim said “there’s some money left over from that that we’re gonna put it into the playground area.”
“If we’re short let’s see if we can find the money,” Kim said.