Deconstructing the Kaka‘ako Makai Parks Master Plan
by Rachelle Chang, Better Hawaii, May 31, 2016
This is my most recent experience with Kaka‘ako Waterfront Park in Honolulu: last year, my son participated in the Children and Youth Day Fun Run. The view of the ocean was amazing and the path between the grassy, rolling lawns was relaxing, but we stuck to the sidewalks and didn’t linger at the park. Most of the other parents quickly left after the run too. Why didn’t we stay to enjoy the park?
To encourage people to visit Kaka‘ako, the Hawaii Community Development Authority (HCDA) has proposed a Master Plan for renovating the Kaka‘ako Makai Parks, which includes the Kaka‘ako Gateway Park, the Kaka‘ako Waterfront Park, and Kewalo Basin Park. Earlier this month, HCDA released the Kaka‘ako Makai Parks Active Use Facilities Master, a draft Environmental Impact Statement (dated April 27, 2016) to transform the Kaka‘ako Makai Parks into activity-filled community spaces.
With a goal of “sustainable, re-energized, active uses and enhanced gathering places,” the Master Plan proposes park improvements in a phased approach. The HCDA envisions an entryway plaza and water feature, a “Lei of Green” connecting the Waterfront Park to Kewalo Basic Park, a sports complex with sand volleyball courts and bleachers and a gymnasium, a rain garden, a beach hale, a keiki zone, an adventure zone, food concessions, a biergarten, a community center, and a re-located the amphitheater.
It’s an ambitious project, and there are three fundamental questions to answer: Do we need it? Can we afford it? and Can we maintain it? Let’s take a moment to consider these questions.
1. Do we need it? HCDA thinks that we do, citing that “the population of the Kaka‘ako Mauka Area is expected to double to 30,000 people as a result of the continued build out of the area” (page 2), combined with the belief that a “lack of attractions” is one of the reasons that the Kaka‘ako Makai Parks is currently unused (page 29).
In my opinion: We don’t need a theme park with a lot of amenities. Instead, we need to focus on two basic improvements: safety (how safe do we feel at the park?) and visibility (can we can see the people around us, or are people lurking around the corner?). With more construction and more people in Kaka‘ako, I think we need to preserve our open spaces.
2. Can we afford it? All of these improvements would cost a lot of money, and the Master Plan highlights only the biggest expenditures: $24.5 million for a sports complex, $16.7 million to re-locate the amphitheater, $1.8 million for parking re-location, $1.3 million for a biergarten, $178 thousand for a food truck concession area.
In my opinion: We may be able to afford basic improvements for comfort stations, re-landscaping the grassy mounds, exercise and play areas, and a food truck concession area; but everything else is up for debate. This is a public works project for good economic times; right now, I don’t think we have the money for the improvements, and I doubt that the amenities would be used as often as projected.
3. Can we maintain it? HCDA believes that the sports complex, amphitheater, biergarten, and food trucks will operate at a profit. The Master Plan estimates that Kaka‘ako Makai Parks will earn more revenue that it will spend on operations, with a total projected annual net operating income of $388,000.
In my opinion: The projected income from the food truck concession, $73,000, may be reasonable, but the rest of the income projections seem overly-optimistic. If the multi-million dollar Hawai‘i Convention Center is still operating at a loss after 20 years, and is not projected to break even until 2018 (Honolulu Star-Advertiser, “Tourism authority still in debt $317M for convention center,” January 18, 2016), it seems over-confident to assume that the sports complex, amphitheater, and biergarten, with their higher operating costs, can immediately turn a profit.
Four additional thoughts about the 2016 Kaka‘ako Makai Parks Active Use Facilities Master Plan:
* No plan for security. While acknowledging that “In recent years, the Kaka‘ako Makai Area has experienced an influx of homeless individuals and families” (page 2), there is no plan to address the homeless and no plan for increased security.
* There really are more alternatives. HCDA presents us with two options, no action or an outdated 2011 Conceptual Plan. This sets up a false dilemma. In fact, there are more alternatives, such as accepting only select portions of the 2016 Master Plan.
* Who really benefits? The truth is revealed:“The Master Plan improvements are expected to contribute to enhanced property values of commercial and residential properties located mauka in the Kaka‘ako Makai Parks” (page 26). Not only do the park improvements benefit homeowners and property owners, it benefits the city through higher property taxes.
* Privacy please. The 2016 Master Plan includes the names and contact information (addresses, telephone numbers, and email) from community events. Contact information should have been blocked out to protect the attendees’ privacy.
What is your vision for Kaka‘ako? What do you think of the Kaka‘ako Makai Parks Master Plan?