Mayor Kirk Caldwell says he is moving ahead with nine key projects to renovate and improve sections of Ala Moana Beach Park.
The mayor says the city’s plans do not involve commercializing the park.
“We have heard loud and clear that people do not want the park commercialized,” the mayor said at a news conference Wednesday.
He says the nine projects will be done in phases, with the last work expected to finished by May 2017.
Caldwell says the goal is to fix what’s broken at Ala Moana Beach Park, better maintain what’s working, and provide new enhancements for residents, including clean, safe bathrooms and food concessions serving plate lunches.
“It is the people’s park but it is showing its age. It is 81 years old. The changes will not be massive, but they will make the park better,” says Caldwell.
The mayor took a huge political hit from concerned residents in March when he announced he had hired a mainland consulting firm for $1.2 million to create plans to renovate Ala Moana Beach Park. He said then that everything was on the table, including possible new commercial features in the park.
Critics worried that meant the city was moving ahead to gentrify Ala Moana Park for out-of-state investors who are now snapping up the multi-million dollar condominiums under construction in Kakaako and Ala Moana Center.
Park goers were worried that new commercial restaurants would spring up in the park — especially after the mayor said in March, “For me, I would love to go somewhere where I can sit by the water and have a reasonable priced meal and have a beer.”
But the mayor stressed Wednesday that the only food service to be allowed at Ala Moana Beach Park in the future will be at the park’s two existing concession stands. And the two concessions will sell “local food for local residents.”
L & L Hawaiian Barbecue opened in the concession building across the street from Magic Island July 4. And at a later date, L & L Hawaiian Barbecue will start another operation at the second concession near the Ewa end of the park.
“What’s more local than L & L? That is about as local as you can get,” says Caldwell.
And for those who consider L & L food unhealthy, the mayor laughs. “L & L offers a 400-calorie ahi special with lots of greens and no macaroni salad.”
The mayor says another key project scheduled for Ala Moana Beach Park is the renovation of the public restroom next to the Magic Island parking lot. That will be done in December.
“We will not replace the existing bathroom. We heard loud and clear that people want to keep the bathroom but we are going to fix it, by cleaning it, removing graffiti, making it look like it did when it was built, only cleaner and better.”
That’s a big change from plans the city revealed in March to tear down the popular old restroom and replace it with a new pilot project comfort station.
“We have heard loud and clear that people do not want the park commercialized.” — Mayor Kirk Caldwell
The pilot project comfort station at Magic Island was to have six unisex bathroom stalls, to be used either by a man or a woman, each stall with its own door opening to the Magic Island parking lot. And behind each bathroom stall on the beach side, a private shower stall with its own door.
The experimental comfort station was promoted as easier to clean and safer than traditional park bathrooms.
But Pam Ah Nee of Kaneohe, who was at the park with her grandchildren Wednesday said, “The unisex bathroom proposal was kind of weird. I didn’t like the idea of using a bathroom stall that could also be used by men. It seemed unsafe. I am glad the current bathroom will not be changed.”
Melissa Lima, picnicking at the park with her family, says, “I like the bathroom the way it is now.”
The mayor says the city will try out the unisex pilot project comfort station in the future at another city park.
“There are more than 200 comfort stations at city parks on Oahu. We need to find a way to keep some of them safer,” says Chris Dacus, the city’s executive assistant for historic parks.
Here are some of the other projects the mayor says are soon to be underway to improve Ala Moana Beach Park:
• Hire five additional park workers to bring the total to 22 staffers. Now there are 17 city park employees at the park but those workers also are responsible for duties at Mother Waldron Park, Thomas Square and a section of park along Kalakaua Avenue.
• Increase park safety with more patrols by the Honolulu Police Department. The mayor says he is also considering hiring private security guards. He says there is still a problem of the homeless sneaking in after the park closes each night at 10 p.m.
• Repair the pathway around Magic Island by leveling it and covering it with a new blue coating. “To make it smoother and safer for people to walk on,” says Caldwell.
• Build the first-ever children’s playground in Ala Moana Beach Park. The public will select the location of the playground and the type of play equipment it should feature.
• Get rid of the coral sticking out of the sand by burying the sharp rocks now hurting swimmers’ feet with excess sand that’s been piling up in sections of the beach. Plans to do a full sand restoration project at the beach will come sometime in the future.
• Install bright LED lighting at all the park restrooms and the food concessions.
• Irrigate with a new irrigation system the now dried-out “Great Lawn” stretching from McCoy Pavilion to the food concession stand by Magic Island.
• Beautify the way the park looks from Ala Moana Boulevard by planting 40 monkey pod trees.
“I have to say that area looks pretty desert-like now. We want a canopy of trees that feels shady and nurturing,” says Caldwell.
The mayor says all nine projects scheduled for Ala Moana Beach Park are already funded with money set aside in the city’s budget.
“We love this park to death. Now it’s time to love it back to life,” says executive assistant Dacus.
And in case you were wondering, the $1.2 million mainland consultant working with 14 Hawaii-based sub-contractors is still in the picture.
Biederman Redevelopment Ventures and Associates of New York will be back in Honolulu in the fall for a public meeting at McCoy Pavillion, where it will present in conjunction with the city three possible plans for the future renewal of Ala Moana Beach Park.
Dacus says the three plans will be based on comments from more than 800 interested members of the public.
Dacus says there is no end date yet before a final plan is selected but that the public will be consulted before a final choice is made on the long-term future plans for the park.