‘ This is your fu­ture’ EN­THU­SI­ASM FLOWS DUR­ING PUNA KAI GROUND­BREAK­ING

West Hawaii Today - - Local News - BY JEFF HANSEL Email Jeff Hansel at jhansel@ hawai­itri­bune-her­ald.com.

HILO — De­spite a heavy down­pour, more than 300 peo­ple came out Thurs­day for the Puna Kai shop­ping cen­ter ground­break­ing in Pa­hoa.

“I’m very, very happy for this,” said Puna res­i­dent Leimomi Bart­low, a school para­pro­fes­sional.

She said her whole fam­ily’s ex­cited be­cause they love Pa­hoa and want to sup­port the com­mu­nity. Her son is a farm worker in Puna and her hus­band is a char­ter-school cus­to­dian. They all want Puna Kai to suc­ceed so jobs will flour­ish, mak­ing it eas­ier for fam­i­lies such as theirs to stay in the dis­trict.

“This is why I’m here — to give my bless­ing and I re­ally, re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate it,” Bart­low said.

Puna Kai will have a 10-foot over­hang at ev­ery store­front. Even shops that aren’t restau­rants will have out­side seat­ing, de­signed to of­fer a “sense of place.”

A wet­lands area is planned with walk­ways as part of an en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly waste­water recla­ma­tion sys­tem, said Jon McEl­vaney, one of the orig­i­nal de­vel­op­ers who sold the prop­erty to cur­rent de­vel­oper Gary Pinkston.

Puna Kai has been a dream in Pa­hoa since at least 2013, when plan­ners first be­gan work­ing to de­velop the shop­ping cen­ter. In the months ahead, the 103,600-square-foot shop­ping cen­ter will take shape, and that has res­i­dents ex­cited about the po­ten­tial for ad­di­tional eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment.

“I think it’s good for the Pa­hoa peo­ple. We need some­thing like this,” said Jade Holt, a guard with Aloha Se­cu­rity who di­rected traf­fic dur­ing gush­ing rain dur­ing the ground­break­ing.

At­ten­dees got to taste sushi and pizza that will be avail­able when the shop­ping cen­ter’s stores even­tu­ally be­gin to open, which is es­ti­mated for mid- to late 2018.

Paula Medeiros, co-owner of Umekes Fish­mar­ket Bar and Grill, plans to bring her per­sonal touch to her new store at Puna Kai.

She said her nephew will con­tinue to over­see the Kona restau­rant, and she will op­er­ate the one in Pa­hoa.

“This is go­ing to be my baby,” she said.

Rain or shine, the shop­ping cen­ter will be great for sit-down din­ing, Medeiros said.

“It’s the Big Is­land. So we’re used to the rain,” she said. “I think it’s go­ing to be per­fect. Peo­ple tend to go out and eat when it rains.”

Puna Kai is some­thing new and dif­fer­ent for Pa­hoa, said Ka­malani Guba, who helped set up ta­bles and serve bev­er­ages along­side Shan-Lee Parks and sev­eral other cadets from the Youth Chal­lenge Academy.

Both teens, grad­u­at­ing in De­cem­ber, are from Puna.

“I feel like it’s some­thing we need be­cause Pa­hoa doesn’t have a lot of what we need, a lot of op­por­tu­ni­ties,” Guba said.

“We have a lot of home­less here,” Bart­low said sep­a­rately. “We want to get the home­less work­ing — I’m ex­cited.”

The shop­ping cen­ter, at the in­ter­sec­tion of Ka­hakai Boule­vard and Pa­hoa Vil­lage Road, will be owned and man­aged by Merid­ian Pa­cific, an in­vest­ment and de­vel­op­ment com­pany with of­fices in Hon­olulu and San Fran­cisco.

Com­mu­nity mem­bers help to smooth out the mound of dirt used as the ground­break­ing site as a sym­bol of com­mu­nity in­volve­ment in the Puna Kai shop­ping de­vel­op­ment Thurs­day dur­ing the of­fi­cial ground­break­ing and bless­ing of Puna Kai Pa­hoa at the for­mer Bryson’s Cin­ders on old Pa­hoa Vil­lage Road.

PHO­TOS BY HOLLYN JOHN­SON/

An artist ren­der­ing of the new shop­ping de­vel­op­ment is on dis­play Thurs­day dur­ing the of­fi­cial ground­break­ing and bless­ing of Puna Kai Pa­hoa at the for­mer Bryson’s Cin­ders on old Pa­hoa Vil­lage Road.

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