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Downtown free public parking lots now require a fee

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Kailua-Kona’s downtown public parking on Hualalai Road no longer is free, forcing the longtime downtown farmerʻs market to have to relocate and causing medical personnel of the Hawaiʻi Island Community Health Center to desperately seek alternative affordable parking.

The two parking lots managed by JLL Retail — one located across from Kona Inn Shopping Village and Hale Halawai and the other behind Kona Bay Hotel — went from free to paid on Oct. 2, the week of the Ironman World Championships.

“It’s disappointing,” said Emily Crabill, spokesperson for the nonprofit community health center. “It is sad for the community and blindsided so many of us.”

Current rates at the lots are $7 hourly, $25 for 5 hours and $50 for a 24-hour period. For Kamaʻāina, the first 90 minutes are free with a valid Hawaiʻi Driver’s License.

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That would cost an employee at a local downtown business about $125 a week or $600 a month to park. Crabill said the medical center started looking for a lot where they could rent spaces but haven’t found anything nearby that they can afford. As a result, 15 of its doctors, nurses and other medical staff are parking at the center’s Kealakehe health and dental clinic nearly 2 miles away and being shuttled into the downtown office by a supervisor.

“It’s very inconvenient and impacts our patient care as it takes longer to see patients,” Crabill said.

Downtown Kona is a patchwork of various parking lots — mostly paid. There is one free lot off of Kuakini Highway near the Palani Road intersection. The Ali‘i Sunset Plaza parking lot, located on the opposite end of the Kuakini is also free, however, the stalls are meant for patrons of the shopping area.

JLL Retail also manages the Kona Inn Shopping Village. Property manager Joe Longley confirmed in an email to Big Island Now that the paid parking program was put in place recently.

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“The parking will accommodate shoppers who visit Kona Inn Shopping Village and for those who need parking for nearby business or leisure activities outside of the shopping center,” Longley stated in the email.

But after Oct. 31, the parking lot across from Hale Halawai no longer will accommodate the downtown farmer’s market, which has been set up there for more than 20 years. At this time, it is unclear if the approximate 12 vendors will have a new home before they are forced to relocate.

Shannan Powell has been a vendor at the market for about 18 years selling bags, jewelry and clothes his wife, who is a flight attendant, brings home from her travels.

Along with fresh produce, those strolling through the maze of tents will find a variety of wares. Colorful sarongs, shirts and dresses along with Hawaiian wood carvings. Everything from a bobblehead turtle to fresh-cut flowers.

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Powell said the market is part of the downtown experience: “This is part of why people come down here.”

Longley said the management company is working with the farmer’s market tenants on the possibility of transferring them into the shopping village.

Crabill doesn’t begrudge the property management company for making the free lots now paid. She said it was fair because they didn’t know who was parking in the lots and the impact it would cause.

The community health center, located on the corner of Kuakini Highway and Hualalai Road, has its own parking lot, but it’s small and reserved for patients. Crabill wasn’t sure the exact number of patients served by the center’s West Hawaii location but said the nonprofit services 17,000 patients on the west side of the island.

The challenge for the center is figuring out what to do about parking for its employees.

Tiffany DeMasters
Tiffany DeMasters is a reporter for Big Island Now. Tiffany worked as the cops and courts reporter for West Hawaii Today from 2017 to 2019. She also contributed stories to Ke Ola Magazine and Honolulu Civil Beat.
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