HILO, Hawaii – State Senator Kai Kahele took a moment over the weekend to explain a bill introduced at this legislative session to unlock the economic potential of Hilo’s urban core.
“We don’t control our own destiny,” Kahele said. “The state of Hawaii is the majority land owner in East Hawaii.”
Senate Bill 1292 would establish the Hilo Community Economic District, and create a requirement that “all revenue, income, and receipts of HCDA for the district to be deposited in the Hilo community economic revolving fund, and a designated per cent to be transferred to the special land and development fund under the department of land and natural resources.”
Sen. Kahele said the bill pertains to the Banyan Drive resort area, Wailoa State Park, Kanoelehua Industrial Area, Hilo International Airport and Pier, and other nearby state lands.
Much of the vision stems from the work of Banyan Drive Hawaii Redevelopment Agency, which worked hard over the last year to craft conceptual maps for the future of Hilo’s resort area. However, due to funding and lack of control over the state leases on Banyan, many believe the agency has “hit the ceiling”.
“The Hilo Community Economic District controls its own destiny,” Kahele said, “because it’s made up of members from this Community just like the (Banyan Drive Hawaii Redevelopment Agency) was. But it falls under the Hawaii Community Development Authority and it has a statutory power of the Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism, whose sole job is to look at economic development and how to bring tourism back. That’s not the role of DLNR.”
Things really hit home for Kahele when, just before Christmas, one of his long time friends suddenly decided to pack up his family and head to Las Vegas, because he saw more opportunity on the mainland for he and his kids.
“This island has the highest unemployment rate in the state; we have not recovered from the closure of the sugar plantation,” Kahele said. “This was a call-to-action.”
We also spoke to State Representative Mark Nakashima, who introduced the bill on the House side. This year, Nakashima chairs the House Committee on Economic, Development & Business.