Free or reasonably priced parking in Kona’s Historic Kailua Village getting difficult to find
Many residents and tourists who go to Historic Kailua Village in Kona are experiencing sticker shock — when they park.
Over the past several years, privately owned parking lots that used to be free so people could patronize restaurants, shops, bars and other businesses now are charging rates ranging from $9 to $15 per hour.
Last week, Oregon couple Leon and Cari Grumbo had only been in Kona for a little over 24 hours and had spent $37 to park for two trips to the village. The $15 per hour rate caused them to cut short their shopping at the farmer’s market in the Kona Inn parking lot.
“You go to a market like that to get a good deal on some fruit, which is what we went there for, but then you add another $15 just for parking,” Leon Grumbo said.
At that point, Cari Grumbo said: “You’re not getting a good deal.”
They debated whether it would be cost-effective to pay a $90 monthly parking fee for the remainder of their nine-day vacation.
Finding a place to park that is free, or even inexpensive, is becoming more and more challenging among the patchwork of 21 or so parking lots and street parking tucked behind touristy Aliʻi Drive. (See the comprehensive list at end of the story)
Two weeks before the 2022 VinFast Ironman World Championship, the Kona Inn and Shopping Village lot off Hualālai Road began charging to park. On Oct. 2, Coconut Grove Marketplace also began charging to park in its lot.
In a press release, marketplace officials cited the move to paid parking because its lots were reaching capacity by people who were not patronizing its establishments. Calls to property management went unreturned.
Now, from the stretch between the Marriott by Courtyard King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel and the Royal Kona Resort, most of the parking lots require payment or are limited to specific business patrons.
The main exception is the Hawai‘i County-owned lot off Kuakini Highway near the Palani Road intersection which has at most, 150 spaces. There also is some free street parking on Ali‘i Drive. However, most of the stalls are freight zone parking from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Some of the paid parking lots provide free time or discounts. Coconut Grove and Kona Inn, both operated by Parklinq, offer the first 90 minutes free for kamaʻāina with a valid Hawaiʻi Driver’s License.
Washington State visitors Steve and Susan Franson were trying to pay for parking at the Kona Inn lot when they realized even handicapped parking required payment.
“They need to have disabled parking for the streets at least,” Franson said. “In Washington, you don’t have to pay for disabled parking.”
Ross Wilson, executive director of the nonprofit Kailua Village Business Improvement District, said the private property owners have a right to charge for parking, although the district is working with the county on solutions to address more free public parking.
Wilson said the nonprofit conducted a parking study a few years ago when discussions were held about building a parking structure at the county lot off Kuakini Highway.
But with an estimated cost of $10 to 12 million, Wilson said it wasn’t a feasible project at that time.
Wilson said opening the 25-stall parking lot at Hale Hālāwai Park, when it is not being used by paying customers who rent the space, would help. The parking lot is locked behind a gate when it is not rented.
After looking into sharing those parking spaces, Parks and Recreation Director Maurice Messina said the park is used almost daily by park renters, including senior citizens, who hold a variety of classes that include card making, tai chi and ‘ukulele lessons. The park is also the site for many large events like the Tahitian dance competition Heiva I Hawai‘i.
The county already collaborated with St. Michaels, located across from Hale Hālāwai, to allow the public to park in its lot when there are no church activities.
A free park-and-ride trolley program was started in May to help alleviate the paid parking concerns. The Kona Trolley route begins at Luhia Street by Target and includes stops at popular destinations such as Kona Commons, Kona Brew, Queen Kaʻahumanu Highway, Palani Road, Aliʻi Drive and Keauhou Shopping Center.
Wilson said more discussion is needed about how to provide better parking to the Kailua Village.
“Maybe the park and rides are the solution,” he said. “Maybe park and rides are for the employees.”
No matter what it is, residents say something needs to change. Jennifer Connery, who works in the BodyGlove kiosk at the Kona Inn parking lot, sees the frustration firsthand.
“If our whole goal is to bring people in for tourism, I sit here two days a week and I listen to people complain,” Connery said. “Every single time they gasp when they see the price.
“People are here wanting to enjoy themselves, and they get to a place where they’re feeling disappointed right when they land downtown.”
Luckily for Connery, her boss pays a monthly parking fee in a nearby lot for her vehicle.
Mayor Mitch Roth said the county is actively searching for fair and practical solutions that benefit both property owners and the wider community.
“We understand that change can be challenging, and there’s no easy solution to our current parking challenges,” Roth stated. “However, by collectively adjusting our habits and how we move around in the short term, we can pave the way for long-term congestion relief.”
Aside from the trolley, Hele-On buses are free and the county has several HIBike stations around Ali‘i Drive where a bicycle is available to rent.
But there is good news. When the the Kona Inn parking lot, operated by JLL Retail, went to a paid system last year there was uncertainty as to what would happen to the downtown farmers market that’s been a popular fixture in the parking lot for at least 20 years.
On Monday, Joe Longley with JLL Retail said the decision had been made: the farmer’s market stays.
Parking lots available to the public and patrons, free and paid:
- Kuakini lot has about 140 free stalls, located off Kuakini Highway by the Palani Road intersection.
- Street parking on Likana Lane behind Scandinavian Shave Ice – Designated as a passenger loading zone from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. During that time there’s 3-minute parking.
- Bougainvillea Court, 75-5656 Kuakini Highway, customer and employee parking only.
- Pacific 19, 75-5646 Palani Road, permit parking for hotel guests only.
- Courtyard by Marriott King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel, 75-5660 Palani Road, parking is available for non-hotel guests in a secure lot behind the hotel. The hourly rate is $10 and $25 for the day. Rates are expected to change.
- Quinn’s Almost by the Sea, 75-5665 Palani Road, has a small parking lot with four stalls in front of the restaurant. There are about five free street parking spots on Palani Road designated for the eatery.
- Kona Seaside Shops, next to Quinn’s, has 14 paid stalls accessed from Palani Road.
- Big Kahuna Beach Grill, 75-5663 Palani Road, has two designated street parking spots and about 10 paid stalls behind the restaurant, accessed from Palani Road.
- Kona Square, 75-5659 Ali’i Drive, 20 paid stalls accessed from Ali’i Drive Road.
- The Fish Hopper, 75-5683 Ali‘i Drive, has a parking lot behind the restaurant for customers only, accessed from Ali‘i Drive.
- ABC Store, 75-5703-C Ali‘i Drive, has about seven stalls for customers in front of the shop, accessed from Ali‘i Drive.
- Kona Marketplace, 75-5729 Ali‘i Drive, has two lots — one with about 24 stalls and the other with about 90 — behind the shopping center accessed from Sarona Road off Ali‘i Drive. It is paid parking.
- Kuakini Tower, 75-5722 Kuakini Highway, has 20 paid parking stalls for public use. Access to the lot is also up Sarona Road.
- Holiday Inn Express, 75-146 Sarona Road, has limited parking for shoppers to Ali‘i Plaza.
- Kona Inn and Village Shopping lot has paid parking with about 100 stalls accessed from Hualalai Road, Behind Uncle Billy’s Kona Bay Hotel.
- Kona Inn and Village Shopping lot, or the Paid Public Parking Lot, is located on Hualalai Road across from its lot by Uncle Billy’s.
- Hale Hālāwai Park, 75-5760 Ali‘i Drive, is located on the makai side of Ali‘i Drive between Kona Inn Shopping Village and Waterfront Row Shopping Center. The parking lot is locked behind a gate and only opens for those who rent the park for events.
- St. Michaels the Archangel Church, 75-5769 Ali‘i Drive, has opened its lot to public parking when there are no events going on at the church. The lot is located across the street from Hale Hālāwai.
- Waterfront Row Shopping Center, 75-5774 Alii Drive, has a paid parking garage accessed off Ali‘i Drive.
- Sunset Ali’i Plaza, 75-5799 Ali‘i Drive, provides parking for customers only. Parking is accessed off Kuakini Highway.
- Coconut Grove Marketplace, 75-5809 Alii Drive, went to paid parking as of Oct. 2. The lot can be accessed from Ali‘i Drive and Kuakini Highway. There is street parking in front of the lot on Kuakini Highway
- Royal Kona Resort, 75-5852 Ali’i Drive, has paid parking for hotel guests and the public at $25 per day. And a few free street parking spots in front of the hotel.