What’s next for plans to revitalize Hilo’s iconic Banyan Drive?
September 23, 2023, 1:00 AM HST
Efforts to revitalize Hilo’s iconic Banyan Drive area on the Big Island’s Waiākea Peninsula continue to move ahead.
Two public listening sessions aimed at gathering input from Banyan Drive stakeholders and responding service provider agencies are in the works to help the Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources as it works to update its strategic assessment of the Banyan Drive area.
Hawai‘i County Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy, who represents the area, said those meetings are tentatively planned for the week of Oct. 16-20.
Hawai‘i Board of Land and Natural Resources Chairwoman Dawn Chang also will share additional details on Sept. 28 during a luncheon of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Hawai‘i and Lee Loy’s office will provide flyers and information via social media.
The state Land Board in July authorized negotiation with the Hawai‘i Community Development Authority to obtain a consultant for the strategic assessment update.
The consultant’s report is due to the board and Hawai‘i Legislature in January. Lee Loy hopes it will provide additional guidance for the next steps, including necessary infrastructure improvements.
Momentum for the revitalization of the Banyan Drive area picked up steam after Hawai‘i Gov. Josh Green signed an emergency proclamation in July to help clean up, secure and demolish the former Uncle Billy’s Hilo Bay Hotel property, which became a den for illegal activity — from squatting to drug use and even arson — after it permanently closed in 2017.
Green recently signed a second emergency proclamation, extending the relief period. A third emergency proclamation is not anticipated.
Andrew’s Fencing of Hilo completed installation of a security fence around the dilapidated and condemned former 146-room hotel. However, after several breaches, the state began 24-hour patrolling of the property.
The department, which has jurisdiction over the state-owned property, is in negotiations with a contractor and engineer to demolish the former hotel; however, that work cannot begin until hazardous materials, including asbestos, are removed.
Lee Loy said the timeline for demolition — estimated to cost $13.5 million — is still on track for the first quarter of next year. The state said at the end of July it hopes the work can begin before the end of this year, if not sooner.
Another Banyan Drive priority is the renovation of the former Country Club Condominium complex, a distressed condo building just around the bend from Uncle Billy’s that also has become a trouble spot during the past several years. Both properties are among six located on state lands on the Waiākea Peninsula.
In April, the state Land Board authorized the state Land Department to negotiate a development agreement for the property’s renovation with Banyan Drive Management. Negotiations are ongoing.
The Land Department said with continued coordination between the state and the Big Island community, particularly the Hilo community, Banyan Drive can become an economic engine and cultural resource.
Voters in a recent Big Island Now poll suggested many ideas for the former Uncle Billy’s property after demolition as well as what else could be included in revitalization and redevelopment plans.
The department’s planning process now underway includes the Banyan Drive business community and cultural community, state and county elected officials and all interested stakeholders working to develop recommendations for the future of the area.
Lee Loy expects any large infrastructure projects to be at least 3 to 5 years down the road. Still, smaller initiatives such as beautification, clean up and signage sharing the history and natural beauty of the Banyan Drive area could begin sooner.
Plans are in a holding pattern now as officials await the completion of the consultant’s report.
“For Hilo, the peninsula is where most of our resort zoning is,” she said. “It’s for travelers, and that includes our local families and relatives attending a graduation, wedding, or a baby luau. It’s for sports teams traveling to compete in canoe races and baseball and volleyball tournaments. Banyan Drive’s success, redevelopment and revitalization are important because it revitalizes our families and connections to each other.”
Lee Loy’s goal now is to seat members on the Banyan Drive Hawai‘i Redevelopment Agency so it can meet and frame up the next steps. The five-member agency was created in 2016 by the County Council to help create and move redevelopment plans ahead.
She hopes the agency can have that meeting in tandem with the work underway by the state’s consultant and community stakeholders such as Banyan Drive businesses, the Friends of Lili‘uokalani Gardens and the Friends of Historic Banyan Drive.
Lee Loy sees the ideal future of Banyan Drive as a nice balance between park and shoreline use and modest and low-impact tourism.
“Hilo is iconically known for its authentic small-town vibe,” she said. “I’d like to see that continue.”