Gov. Neil Abercrombie touts the 30 new high-rise towers projected for Kakaako with their population of more than 30,000 people as “Oahu’s Third City.”

Every great city needs public park space for its residents to relax and find peace from the stress of urban life. What would New York be without the vast open fields of Central Park? Waikiki would be diminished without
the sweeping lawns of Kapiolani Park.

Kakaako’s designated central park is Kakaako Waterfront Park and Kakaako Makai and Mauka Gateway parks. But the state agency in charge of Kakaako development is moving full speed ahead with ridiculous proposals to remove large sections of valuable parkland from the general public.

The latest silly idea from Anthony Ching, executive director of the Hawaii Community Development Authority (HCDA), is to give up the entire four-acre Kakaako Makai Gateway Park for a Volleyball Academy. Ching says the Academy would feature a building for volleyball instruction as well as eight sand-volleyball courts.

“That’s insane,” says Wayne Takamine, the chairman of the community advisory group that drew up the master plan for Kakaako Makai.

“It goes against what we were trying to do. We wanted to increase open green space at Kakaako. This is taking away the public’s access to open parks.”

Marti Townsend, executive director of the Outdoor Circle, was astounded to hear about the Volleyball Academy proposal.

“Oh, my God! No way! Our public park space is not to be segregated out for special interests. This is ridiculous. Our park space is for everyone. Not just one user group.”

Anthony Ching’s HCDA has jurisdiction over Kakaako development. He says the Volleyball Academy will help thousands of children interested in learning how to play volleyball, as well as providing recreation for other
park users on a exercise area planned for the volleyball complex’s sloping roof.

Former Honolulu City Planning Director John Whalen says it is wrong-headed to take the only flat, open field in Kakaako’s makai park area and turn it over to volleyball players. Whalen says that would deny space to many other field-sport users such as soccer players, kite fliers or kids who enjoy running around. Almost all of the rest of Kakaako Waterfront Park is hilly mounds on top of the reclaimed landfill on which the park was built. The hills are fun for kids to slide down on pieces of cardboard but not conducive to field sports.

Ching’s proposed Volleyball Academy is one of four plans he is exploring to add recreational and community activities to help raise revenues for the $800,000 annual upkeep of Kakaako’s parks.

State and city parks are generally prohibited from renting out space to commercial users except for park refreshment stands. But HCDA is different. It is authorized to sign leases with commercial businesses to raise
money for park upkeep and other Kakaako area needs.

Ching’s most controversial park development idea to date has been his push to allow a private Japanese business to lease up to a third of Kakaako Waterfront Park for a themed light show. That proposal is still active. The
HCDA board has given Ching the exclusive negotiating rights to explore a 25-year lease with Tokyo’s Illuminage Group for 9.4 acres at the Ewa end of the Waterfront Park for a Light Emitting Diode (LED) theme park.

Park users would be prevented from entering the theme park during the day. At night, they could come in, but only if they paid between $6 to $18 for tickets to attend the light shows. In a Honolulu Star-Advertiser interview, Ching justified leasing out the large chunk of the public land to a private entertainment group saying “If you go down to the park now, you have a passive park with limited usage.”

The idea of giving up a third of Kakaako Waterfront Park for a private light show seems so preposterous that Star-Advertiser writer Richard Borreca called it a possible ruse by Ching to distract community groups from paying closer attention to HCDA’s ongoing problems with many of its Kakaako high-rise developments.

Kakaako Resident Sharon Moriwaki says instead of leasing out valuable sections of the park to raise money for park maintenance, the state should require Kakaako developers to put money into an endowment for park upkeep.

Moriwaki says “That way the HCDA wouldn’t have to come up with crazy ideas like the LED light show and the Volleyball Academy.”

Ching, in an hour-long telephone interview with me, carefully explained what he envisions as the best kind of park development. He said a park must be more than just grassy area for people to picnic and relax.

Ching said, “A great park is where people gather for enjoyment in different forms, which include culture, recreation and entertainment. That is what brings comfort to people. If we had just 45 acres of green grass at Kakaako, the homeless would take it over.”

But a variety of activities shouldn’t have to mean giving up valuable public sections of the 30-acre Waterfront Park to commercial users or giving up important park areas for use by a single sport.

Parks advocate Michelle Matson says, “It is short sighted to diminish the value of open space.”

Matson is president of the Oahu Island Parks Conservancy. She says: ”Commercial activities are not necessary to draw people to parks. Look at the popularity of passive parks like Magic Island, Kapiolani Park and Diamond
Head Crater.”

Ching is looking at two more construction projects on the Kakaako park land, including what he calls an “art incubator” which would take away up to 18,000 square feet away from the two-acre Kakaako Mauka Gateway Park, a stretch of grass on the ocean side of Ala Moana Boulevard. The building would encourage different types of artists to congregate to generate new ideas. It would also include a community center for meetings and performances.

Ching also has proposed constructing a 4,800 square-foot childcare center in Kakaako Waterfront Park on the site of a current park maintenance building. HCDA spokeswoman Lindsey Doi said the childcare center building would not exceed the footprint of the maintenance building except for overhanging roof areas for lanais and shade.

To get a final go ahead, each of Ching’s proposals will be subject to environmental assessment reviews and will need approval from state and city agencies as well as the HCDA’s board of directors.

I am hoping the government agencies shoot down all proposals for commercial development on Kakaako’s limited park space. And if any building has to be constructed in the park to help generate revenue for park upkeep, let the structure be for multiple users, the widest segment of the community, not just volleyball players and artists.

Honolulu is already crowded. After we are all dead, the city will be bursting at the seams with people. They will need open park space in which to breathe.

Kakaako Parks — Makai and Mauka

Kakaako Parks Size
Kakaako Waterfront Park 30 acres
Kakaako Makai Gateway Park 4 acres
Kakaako Mauka Gateway Park 2 acres
Kewalo Basin Park 5 acres
Former Queen Street Parks* 2.31 acres
Mother Waldron Park 1.76 acres
Kawaiahao Mini Park 0.2 acres
Total Park Area 45.27 acres

*This area is now known as Kolowalu Makai Park and Kolowalu Mauka Park behind the Hokua Condominium.

Source: HCDA – November 14, 2013

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