Following is the transcription of an interview Big Island Chronicle editor and publisher Tiffany Edwards Hunt had this week with Jon McElvaney, the consultant for the $20 million shopping and medical center project on the Pahoa property where Bryson’s Cinder is currently located.
TEH: I’m with Jon McElvaney, and he is the consultant representing Kurohara Partners, which is the parent company of Bryson’s Cinders? Back up, tell us who you represent exactly.
JM: Okay, it’s BT Kurohara LLC, which is the family operation, the family that owns the property.
TEH: Okay, and the proposal is to convert Bryson’s Cinders into a shopping center development, is that correct?
JM: That is correct.
TEH: And (Thursday, Aug. 1) the Windward Planning Commission voted to advance the proposed development, is that correct?
JM: That’s correct.
TEH: And what are you envisioning for the property exactly, beyond a shopping center?
JM: Well, we’re actually envisioning, we’re trying to do a replica of old Pahoa town. So, we’ve taken all the pictures of old Pahoa town, and all the buildings, and we’ve been working with the old Pahoa steering committee on their architectural review requirements and we’re going to satisfy all those requirements. We’ve already got them involved in that, we’ve had several revisions of our plan that they recommended. In fact we’ve moved buildings twice…
TEH: Based on their recommendations?
JM: Based on their recommendations… What we’re trying to create is a sense of place, a place where people can go shopping, where we’re going to have 12-foot overhangs on every buildings, and sidewalks everywhere, and we’ve split up the parking, so there’s not one giant parking lot… So, it will be a place where you can go with your family and feel comfortable.. and the idea of having the park as a center piece and an outdoor stage and a restaurant right on the park is also something we think people will gravitate to… So, it’s going to be a unique experience when you go there… I think that it will almost be a destination place to go… and if we can recreate, it’s going to be hard to recreate the feel of old Pahoa town, there’s really nothing like it, it’s almost mystical in some sense. So, we’re going to do our best…
TEH: You said you’re not going to completely recreate Pahoa because of its mystical nature and eccentricity probably, what about the fact that there might be a sense of old town versus new town, how would you try to alleviate that?
JM: I think what we’d like to see is our draw to our development is also a draw to old Pahoa town, so people would come and go to both places, because there would be all that many more people. So, as Pahoa town recreates itself, or is able to reconstruct itself, within the historic nature, then I think people coming to our location will gravitate towards that location — because it is historic, I mean, especially tourists. And there might be some way that we can help promote from our location, whether it be through pamphlets or posters —
TEH: Signage or something?
JM: To direct people in that direction.
TEH: What do you — you know, you were the consultant for Woodland Center and you know how controversial Woodland Center was, as far as, not such even the development, I think people mostly centered on the fact that we had fast food restaurants that were coming. And today we’re only seeing one out of two of those still surviving. And I guess my question to you, and curiosity, knowing that you represented them and now you’re representing this other developer, is what lesson did you learn from that and you’re reapplying differently here?
JM: I didn’t have as much control over the situation at Woodland. But I learned a lot from that. And one of the things I learned is fast food restaurants don’t really help a shopping area. What you have is people moving in and out really quickly. There’s no, really, shopping. They go to one store, Long’s, which apparently they love, because it’s doing really well. But I was so shocked when Long’s went up and I saw the size of the building, when I, driving in, I almost fainted.
TEH: Yeah, it was monstrosity for little Pahoa.
JM: But, so, when I saw that, I’m the one who added the awnings and the windows, to try to break up that building — otherwise, it would be a lot worse than it is. Also, I asked to have that building facing the other direction.
TEH: Oh, like with the doors toward the highway or something?
TEH: Oh, okay.
JM: But then it wouldn’t have looked as good from —
TEH: the other side.
JM: Pahoa Village Road — because from Pahoa Village Road it looks kinda nice. But from the other side, it’s not, right? And the other thing was that I had asked for tall trees to grow on the highway side, and they told me that those trees would grow to be eight feet or 10 feet high.
TEH: They seem to not get enough sun or something.
JM: And they’re completely stunted.
TEH: Yeah, is there a way, to go back to the drawing board on something like that, and maybe do some kind of living vine or something?
JM: Here’s the problem. The day after — I signed the lease with Long’s the day before CVS bought them out. And working with Long’s was great.
TEH: Because it’s more local, yeah?
JM: Yeah, and they were aware that if we didn’t get the lease signed, we might have had a CVS company that would be a lot more hard to work with. So, that caused, I mean, CVS was a different animal than local Long’s. So, in trying to get something done now, I have to go through CVS and ask them —
TEH: And it’s more difficult, yeah?…
JM: It doesn’t mean it’s not possible — you’re going to have to edit this, in a good way.
TEH: We were just talking about Woodland Center, and segway-ing back to the current project —
JM: The other point I wanted to make about fast food, it’s not to the advantage of what we’re trying to do in the new development to have fast food. If we did have fast food, we don’t want a drive through.
TEH: I see, with that restaurant and park overlook you kinda wanna have an upscale —
JM: I want to get local people involved, and some of them might have really good businesses but they might need a new building, a cleaner, newer presentation. And we could give them that in this location. So — I actually talked with a couple, two of them yesterday.
TEH: Okay, how many, I know you need a big anchor and there’s a lot of rumors that KTA will be coming. Is there any validity to that rumor? Is KTA coming to Pahoa?
JM: KTA is the number one, that is the store that we want to be there.
TEH: Oh, okay.
JM: And they are ahead of the two stores.
TEH: It would seems like it would be in their interest to have a Puna presence.
JM: Yeah, I’ve been talking with them for about five months.
TEH: Great, and obviously there’s my editorial comment there. We do need more opportunities for grocery shopping in Pahoa. What, what else — You have to have a big anchor, so that would probably be your anchor, and the big, and then I guess you are going to have a restaurant you said, would you have retail, like kinda what is over in Malama?
JM: Retail — we need things for women. What I would like to do, now that we’re getting to that point where it looks like we’re moving in the right direction, I would like to go back to the community and ask the community for what they would like to see in the center, because so far I have asked them to help me design, why not ask for their help with what we put in there… And it’s not too late. We’re still moving buildings around. So, there’s room to —
TEH: Do you have an idea of how many different office space or retail spaces you would have beyond the big anchor?
JM: Oh yeah, yeah.
TEH: So, how many you think? —
JM: So, we have what we call in-line retail of about, that BT, Bryson Kurohara will build, is about 39,000 square feet… So that can be divided up into shops or other stores —
TEH: 39,000 square feet, including the —
JM: Not including the anchors or the pad leases.
TEH: And the pad leases would be the restaurants?
TEH: Pad leases —
JM: Well, could be, could be — let’s say if we were able to get Sansei to come over, that would be a pad lease.
TEH: Sansei, whose Sansei? The Japanese restaurant?
TEH: Oh, okay, that’s what you’re shooting for?
JM: Have you ever been to Sansei? —
TEH: Over Waikoloa, yes. Okay —
JM: Yeah, it’s a lot of fun.
TEH: Interesting. What about — so, it sounds kinda like an upscale environment here. What about your —?
JM: A combination of upscale.
TEH: Is that lot considered, like, one lot for water purposes, are you going to have challenges with water?
JM: It’s considered three lots for water purposes here.
TEH: Oh, okay.
JM: And we’re going to consolidate it, and resubdivide it.
TEH: Is there any room for a laundromat and a car wash?
JM: No —
TEH: It doesn’t sound like It’s really geared for that.
JM: We could if we — We’d have to drill a lot, because they use so much water.
TEH: I see, that’s the challenge. Because it seems like, that’s been expressed before. A great need for a car wash and another laundromat. But that’s the challenge is water.
JM: Yeah. I’ve been studying up on well drilling.
TEH: Oh, okay.
JM: And I’m finding out a lot of really interesting and good things where a lot of relieve could be had from just drilling a well.
TEH: Okay. let’s see —
JM: I would like to say something about environment. I’m an environmentalist. And I’m trying to put as much environmental emphasis on this location, from photo voltaics on the roof to what you call bio swales for wastewater running on the surface, to try and cut down on the dry wells going into the ground. And there’s new technology we can use, that we’re going to use in that situation. The other thing is, the organic waste from the restaurants and the super markets, we’re going to have separate receptacles for all of that organic waste. We’re going to take that, and have that composted into soil amendment, and we’ll put that back on to the landscaping, but we’ll also be able to provide that to the community for their own properties, for their own use.
TEH: Oh, okay.
JM: I think that is kinda of essential, because they’re going back to the earth, they’re going back to the land.
TEH: Yeah, as you’re talking I’m thinking, have you talked with Pacific Biofuels, and maybe there is a potential for a biofueling station?
JM: I’m talking about all the technologies. All the new technologies that are sustainable, that will provide extra electric power besides photovoltaics.
TEH: So, you’ve come a long way from the Burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken mode.
JM: Oh, yeah, Bryson’s given me a lot of leeway —
TEH: It’s very encouraging to hear as a resident, not just a writer for the community.
JM: Driving down from Volcano yesterday, I was thinking about the reverence to the land, and how important that is, so, yeah.
TEH: I think one of the biggest challenges that you’re going to see in this whole proposed development is the traffic situation and the fact that it is so close to this problem intersection that has yet to be resolved by the state and I’m just wondering how you’re approaching that intersection — because there is so much business in that triangle area. And then to compound it with another intersection of busy-ness. What do you foresee happening?
JM: I think because of the Pahoa Mainstreet going to that meeting with the Department of Transportation with Russell Ruderman on the video screen and recognizing the problem coming out of Malama Market and trying to get them to change the roundabout design to manage that Malama Market situation, and I have to give credit to Pahoa Mainstreet because it did work. And I also testified in favor of what they were saying. So, now, coming out of Malama Market there will be a right turn and it will only go straight into Pahoa. There will be no left turn onto the bypass road from Malama Market. And they’re bringing — the traffic will come in straight and turn right into Malama Market.
TEH: Oh, I see. That seems logical.
JM: They’re going to open up that dead end.
TEH: Yeah, that seems logical.
JM: So, they’ll turn right coming in, there will be no left turn going out, it will be right turn only, and then if they’re going to Lower Puna or back to Paradise Park, they’ll go on the roundabout and go out. So that’s going to —
TEH: Is there a way for you to put a roundabout in your area?
JM: We had questions about that and when you study how big a roundabout is, there’s now way we could put it at Kahakai Boulevard and Pahoa Village Road.
TEH: Or like a little — I’m envisioning St. George, Utah — there’s this little one right in the historic downtown, it doesn’t have to be, like, a a big thing, yeah?
JM: We have private land at every corner. It’s not right-of-way. There’s no right-of-way.
TEH: So, they would have to do land acquisition in order to make that happen.
JM: And also you would have to move utility poles.
TEH: Wouldn’t you also have to do that with a traffic signal as well, though?
JM: No, it’s all do in the right of way.
TEH: So this is going to be a small, little light?
JM: No, it will be a four-way signal light.
JM: And what I envision is that the roundabout, remember the cars are going to have to go 25 miles per hour on the roundabout, so when they come off, whichever direction they’re going, if they come off in towards Pahoa town, the signal light will be adjusted to the rate of traffic flowing in that direction. So, what I’m envisioning, it’s going to be like a hub. It’s going to be very easy to get in, it’s going to be very easy to get out.
TEH: Are you proposing any sort of sidewalk stuff in order to connect all these different shopping centers together? I mean, I know that —
JM: That’s a little bit too big for us. In the last few weeks, the County has required that we put curb, gutter, and sidewalk on the new extension of Kahakai Boulevard.
So, we’re actually building a new roadway, 830 feet with curb, gutter, and sidewalk, and it has to be 55 feet wide, and that’s added another $850,000 just to do that.
TEH: It’s going to be how much wider than the existing Kahakai Boulevard?
JM: It’s going to be — It’ll be the same width, because we’re widening also the frontage of old Pahoa Village Road, five feet, so that’ll be about the same, 55 feet on both sides of the project and curb, gutter, and sidewalk on Pahoa Village Road. And Pahoa has asked us to move —
TEH: Just in your frontage.
JM: Yeah, now back at the roundabout they’re putting in new sidewalks, and one of the sidewalks is going to extend halfway on the west side towards our project.
TEH: So, how many feet will there not be a sidewalk, we have to figure that part out.
JM: Well, there, in a perfect world, it would be nice to have a sidewalk from Malama Market —
TEH: All the way.
JM: All the way, but that is on somebody else’s property.
TEH: Is it the Pahoa Marketplace property, or something?
JM: No, it’s that —
TEH: In between?
JM: County’s telling me, we shouldn’t have to — I mean, it would be nice but it would be very expensive and they’re creating some new sidewalk on that side. But that would basically be the responsibility of that property owner if and when they ever develop that section.
TEH: I see.
TEH: so timeline, you’re going to be going before the Council soon. Do you have any idea when?
JM: First week in September, or second week in September.
TEH: So, say, hands down, the County Council is overwhelmingly in support, you don’t really have too much opposition, they approve the project, whether the votes are 5-4, 7-1 or 2, whoever is there or not there —
JM: It may be unanimous.
TEH: Maybe unanimous. It seems like you’re already working over there on the project.
JM: Yeah, that’s because there’s a lot of civil, underground work that has to be done.
TEH: Well, that seems like you’re — I guess —
JM: We’re confident?
TEH: You’re very confident if you’re doing work like that already.
JM: I asked Bryson, I said, ‘Bryson, what if we don’t get it?’ And he said, ‘Ill just have to sell these rocks!’
TEH: Okay, so you’re moving rocks around over there, when do you think you’ll break ground on a building?
JM: By the time we get through with the County Council, and it gets approved, that’ll probably be the end of October. And then we have at least three months of design work to do. And then I need to find out from the DOT, when are they going to break ground.
TEH: Is there a contingency stated in the plans that DOT needs to finish the Pahoa Village Road and Highway 130.
JM: Before we can have occupancy.
TEH: Okay, so, you can still start working on the building before, you just can’t put anybody in.
JM: Yeah, we can work on the civil work. But what I’m concerned about is, I don’t want to be working in the state right of way, or the state (actually, County) intersection, Kahakai Boulevard and Pahoa Village Road, if the state DOT is working.
TEH: It’s going to compound the traffic problem.
JM: Yeah, we have to coordinate that. And I have agreed that we will not do that.
If the DOT is before us, you know — so we’ll coordinate with the DOT and make sure —
TEH: What is your perfect vision for when doors will open and the first business — I presume you’re going to want the big anchor open as soon as possible. So, when do you foresee? Best case scenario.
TEH: 2015? An when would it be complete, do you know? Or is it it all dependent on capital?
JM: It’s kinda contingent on permits and coordination. You know, the roundabout in some ways complicates things, but if we do it right, they say it would take a year to build. And we can’t open without them. So, it’s hard to come up with a schedule. And I’ve learned that it’s not a good idea to push anything, just wait for things to happen.
TEH: Well, keep us informed and thank you so much for taking as much time as you have.
JM: Yeah, and give me some ideas on how to get the community involved in the kind of businesses they want to see there.
TEH: Sure, it sounds like you might want to —
JM: As soon as possible.
TEH: You know, I’m also a member of Mainstreet Pahoa, and we’ve actually been pushing our Council representatives to host a town meeting. And, for whatever reason, they aren’t doing that. It seems to me like —
JM: Is that something that would require a town meeting, or couldn’t I just go to committee meetings and say I’m asking for help.
TEH: To Mainstreet Pahoa?
TEH: Oh, absolutely, it’s just there’s mostly merchants —business, or, it’s just mostly comprised of merchants, and it seems to me like you want to get the greater community input and buy in as stakeholders. So, it seems to me, it’s in the Council’s interest, particularly when they’re voting on something like this, to host a town meeting. So, maybe they’re going to listen to this, maybe they’re going to read it on the website and get inspired to make it their idea but —
JM: Now, remember we’ve had a lot of public meetings already, right?
TEH: As far as?
JM: As far as the project.
TEH: As far as the Planning Commission you mean?
JM: No, no.
TEH: Public meetings like? —
JM: To the action committee and to the announcement on the EA…
TEH: Most the — and you probably get the same people in the room, right?
JM: Yeah. Remember the park? —
TEH: The thing about it is —
JM: Remember the meeting in the park?
TEH: Yeah, the thing about it is, this is something you want to —
JM: You’re not recording, are you?
TEH: I am, but I can turn it off — this is something you want to get the wider public involved in, the people who are actually going to be your consumers, the people who are going to Sensei, go to that grocery store, and most of those people aren’t going to action committee meetings.
JM: No, how about a public mailing?
TEH: Sure, and I think that may be a way to gather the people and get ideas.
JM: A request in your newspaper asking for help.
TEH: Yeah, sure. And people will comment on this post, and that will be a way to start. How can people get a hold of you?
JM: Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
TEH: Okay, great, thank you.