The Friday night fireworks show that the Hilton Hawaiian Village has been putting on for the public for more than two decades is now subject to rent closer to that imposed on all other fireworks shows for the portion of the public beach designated as a safety zone around the launch area.

In the past, Hilton representatives had successfully argued that the hotel’s Friday shows should not be subject to the standard $500 in rent for a right-of-entry permit because they provide such a benefit to the public and nearby businesses.

But in an effort to be fair to those that pay the full rent for their safety zones, the Department of Land and Natural Resources’s Land Division proposed last month to increase the rent for the Hilton shows from $50 to $250. Hawaii Explosives & Pyrotechnics Inc., which runs the show for the Hilton, would be the actual permittee.

The fireworks show at the Hilton Hawaiian Village has been entertaining visitors and residents for years. Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat/2017

While the rent hike would increase the Hilton’s annual costs for the shows by about $10,000, some Land Board members suggested that the hotel can afford it and, in any event, businesses that benefit from the show could help pitch in toward that increased cost.

At the Land Board’s June 9 meeting, Hilton representatives again stressed the community benefit of the Friday shows, which regularly draw hundreds of spectators.

“We recognize your argument that there is a community benefit, but there is also a commercial and business benefit to Hilton,” board chair Suzanne Case said. “Arguably, anybody else that does this could argue that it is a community benefit. … Other fireworks, everybody gets to see them.”

“I don’t think anybody else does it 52 times a year,” replied Hilton vice president Jerry Gibson.

“There are people that don’t like the fireworks,” Case noted – a point many pet owners might agree with.

Rick Egged of the Waikiki Improvement Association urged the Land Board to consider the fact that the weekly fireworks shows cost Hilton $446,000 a year, which the hotel has to constantly justify.

“It’s difficult. It’s always a question of whether they’re going to get it approved. … I would really request the board consider not increasing the rate,” he said.

Board member Sam Gon suggested a further compromise: raising the rent to just $100, rather than $250. While member Chris Yuen seconded his motion, it ultimately failed.

Even so, Yuen argued to keep the rent as it is. “We have a beneficial relationship (given) the increased spending that in some way makes its way back to the state. I think Hilton doesn’t want to come here and say, ‘If we pay more, we’ll yank the show.’ … When somebody does something that’s really nice, even if we can charge them more, should we charge them more?” he asked.

But given that the annual permit covering the shows was expiring that day, a Friday, and a new one was needed to cover the show that night and through June 2018, Gon made a motion to pass the Land Division’s recommendation.

“I think it’s a good compromise, not perfect. We value your operation and all you folks do at Waikiki. If this doesn’t work, you could come back. Maybe we’’ll revisit it and change it,” board member Stanley Roehrig said. “We get the heat from both sides. Heat comes every day. We get it on the social media, too. We have to be transparent,” he added.

With that, the board approved Gon’s motion.

Reprinted with permission from the current issue of Environment Hawaii, a nonprofit news publication founded in 1990. All issues published in the last five years are available free to Environment Hawaii subscribers at Non-subscribers must pay $10 for a two-day pass. All issues older than that are free to the public.

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