KAILUA-KONA — On the second-to-last day at Privateer’s Cove’s former location, a couple asked the restaurant’s owner, Nick Traxler, if he, the man behind a pirate restaurant, is also the right man to run a community center at the former Hualalai Theatre.
“No, I’m not. I’m not, not at all. I’m a pirate; I’m rough-and-tumble,” Traxler recalled last week at the old theater off Hualalai Road. “The difference is I can. I have an opportunity where I can be the person that opens it. And we have a lot of good people here that are the right people to be in a community center.”
“So no, am I the right person? No,” he added. “But why would we not take the opportunity?”
The opportunity to offer something for the community — with a children’s center, theater and veterans center all under one roof — is one that other residents are seeing, too. Last Saturday, many of them came out for a day of taking on renovation work to turn the old theater into a place for the community, its children and its veterans.
“For the community, having keiki space is huge,” said Joy Wu, who was among those helping on the work day. “A teenage safe space for teens to hang out is huge. For families to come together … that’s huge. So I think it provides just a chance for people to connect.”
The community center, named the Pirates Outreach Community Center, will be wholly funded by proceeds from the Privateer’s Cove restaurant at the center.
“Privateer’s Cove fully funds the nonprofit,” Traxler said. “One hundred percent of our profit margin funds the community center.”
A grand opening for the community center, scheduled for March 17, is still a month away, but Traxler already has plenty of ideas for how he sees the center offering something for the community that comes through its doors.
“Every night, there should be something going on here,” he said. “We don’t have many places that are 12,000 square feet in this town, much less in the center of this town.”
Those events include free movies for the community on Fridays and Saturdays, and once he’s able to get the projector set up, he said, “The Bridge On the River Kwai” — his mother’s favorite film —will kick off the screenings.
He said he’s reaching out to the police and fire departments about each sponsoring the movie nights, saying it’s critical to bring people together from throughout the community.
The facility also features a children’s center — complete with board games, table games and video consoles — for the community’s kids.
Already, a month ahead of the official grand opening, 20-30 kids a night have been coming to the community center.
In addition to being a fun place for kids, he also plans to make it a space for learning opportunities and after-school help.
Traxler himself plans to teach test-taking strategies for college entrance and post-graduate exams. He also sees the potential for skills development, such as budgeting, applying for college and paying for higher education.
“These kids don’t even know these options are out here — $16,000 in this town, scholarships given out by people in this town were not awarded last year,” said Traxler. “They were not applied for.”
Traxler said the third space is being renovated into an American Legion hall to include a 35-person conference room for that organization and other veterans groups.
In total, it adds up to 23 nonprofit groups that will operate in some way in the community center.
Susan Bickell, president of the Chamber Orchestra of Kona, which will be rehearsing and performing at the community center, said they were looking forward to a partnership with Traxler and the community center.
“We’ve been looking for a long time for a place we can call home,” she said. “This way, we’ll always have a place to perform.”
Also under the roof are three churches, including the Kosrae Pentecostal Church, whose congregants were among last Saturday’s volunteers.
“Here, on this side of the island, we don’t have a youth center where young people can come and spend their time, stay away from the street,” said Kevan Charley, a pastor at the church. “And I think, from what Nick’s been telling us, it puts something in here that will help kids focus on their work or just a place to hang out.”
As a condition of their lease with him, Traxler said all the nonprofits operating out of the community center will be required to come together every two months and talk about ways they can all work together to better the community.
“You get all those people on the same page? The projects we can take on are so far beyond anything we’ve ever done,” he said.
The restaurant is doing breakfast and lunch right now, with dinner to be determined, but no later than March 17.
And when community members stop in for a meal, Traxler said, they can still expect the same restaurant and the same pirate at the helm.
“The abrasive thing will not change, I’m still gonna be my same ol’ me,” he said. “The difference is it’s an opportunity, and to not take it would be absolutely ridiculous.”