Steep rent forces Hawai‘i Keiki Museum to shutter its doors in Kona

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The overwhelming cost of rent is forcing the Hawai‘i Keiki Museum in Kona to close.

The museum, which operates as a nonprofit, opened its doors in 2022 and has been committed to inspiring curiosity, creativity, and innovation in young keiki through hands-on STEAM experiences. The Kona location was created as a preview facility to develop the institution and build a vibrant hub for science literacy and community engagement.

Hawai‘i Keiki Museum. (Facebook courtesy)

The last day of the museum is Sunday. Founder of the learning space, Dana McLaughlin, said she knows people have been mad and sad at the news of the closure.

When the museum first opened, McLaughlin said the rent was $11,000 a month. It has since shot up to $18,000 a month. The museum was currently in negotiations with the landlord about a different rent price, but they were unable to reach an agreement.

The property where the museum is housed on Luhia Street, is owned by the Lili‘uokalani Trust, a private operating foundation established in 1909 for the benefit of orphan and destitute children, with preference given to Native Hawaiians.

The foundation also owns 6,200 acres of land in Kona. Some of that land is being preserved. Current projects include the restoration of the native dryland ecosystem and anchialine pools.


Ellise Morimoto, director of communications for Lili‘uokalani Trust, said the organization didn’t terminate the lease and the rent in place was outlined two years ago at the time McLaughlin signed the lease in 2022.

Morimoto couldn’t comment further on any discussions that were held regarding the rent price.

McLaughlin said the Trust came to her in October providing a new lease agreement with different terms. She said she initially didn’t sign because she wanted to discuss rent relief.

McLaughlin said the foundation told her she had to sign the new agreement before they’d discuss a reduction. After signing, the museum founder said communication stopped.

“They just wouldn’t do any more to work with us,” she said.


McLaughlin said to keep the doors open they would have to double the cost for entrance fees. Tickets to enter the museum are $15; for kama‘aina adults it’s $7. Chaperons are free.

General admission for keiki is $10, kama‘aina is $7 and infants are free.

Despite being a nonprofit, McLaughlin has gotten little funding help from the state. She’s written 76 grants in 3 years and only gotten one.

All of the revenue for the museum comes from admissions.

McLaughlin said she put hundreds of thousands of dollars of her own money, time and effort into providing keiki educational opportunities that are in their “backyard.”

Hawai‘i Keiki Museum. (Facebook courtesy)

“This museum was built by the hardworking people who come to the museum every day,” McLaughlin said.

Walking into the museum, kids are enticed to play with a water table filled with pahoehoe and a‘a, allowing them to move rocks around and create a dam. McLaughlin said it’s meant to teach keiki hydrology and how the dam affects water upstream and downstream.

Among the many other hands-on activities, the museum has a planetarium that projects stars. A guide is on hand to point out the constellations.

Marie Diaz is part of a nanny group that takes kids to the museum every week.

Caring for keiki ranging in age from 12 months to 5 years old, Diaz said the museum is a safe place to bring children offering shelter from the Kona heat while providing an educational environment.

Diaz said the community doesn’t have a lot for children as far as places for them to go besides parks. An indoor venue for entertainment and education is a huge need.

Diaz said kids are excited when they go to the museum.

When we go, they’re running to go inside,” Diaz said. “The kids learn about science, it’s very hands-on.”

Falicia White said she was heartbroken to hear the Keiki Museum was closing.

“When I heard that it is due to a lack of agreement over rent, my heart sank,” White said. “The Keiki Museum founders have provided us a place where our keiki can grow, thrive, learn and make valuable memories together.”

White said the keiki should be “our first priority.”

The Keiki Museum opened a second location in Waikōloa last month, which will remain open. The museum had intended to operate in both locations but the cost structure at Waikōloa is sustainable while the cost of operating in the Kona location is not.

While efforts to find a suitable alternative location in Kona have been ongoing for several months, no viable options have been found yet. HKM intends to continue the search for another home in Kona.

“We want the community to help us because it’s not fair to the community or the kids,” the founder said regarding finding a new location, which needs to be 4,000 to 6,000 square feet.

Those interested in helping find a new home for the Hawai‘i Keiki Museum can reach out to McLaughlin at [email protected].

Tiffany DeMasters
Tiffany DeMasters is a full-time reporter for Pacific Media Group. 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.

Tiffany can be reached at [email protected].
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