Works begins on farmers market canopy

  • Preliminary ground work is under way Monday on long-awaited new construction at Hilo Farmers Market. (JOHN BURNETT/Tribune-Herald)
  • The produce section of Hilo Farmers Market has moved to the Puna side of Mamo Street to accommodate preliminary ground work for long-awaited new construction at the market. (JOHN BURNETT/Tribune-Herald)

HILO — Visitors to Hilo Farmers Market on Monday found the produce area moved from its usual spot adjacent to Reuben’s Mexican Food to the Keaukaha side of Mamo Street.

Construction workers appeared to be starting the groundwork where, according to market owner Keith De La Cruz, concrete and asphalt will be poured prior to the construction of a permanent canopy.

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De La Cruz said the timeline is “three to five months, as far as completion.”

“We hope to have it done before summer,” De La Cruz said.

Construction of the permanent canopy over the produce side of the market, which sits at the corner of Kamehameha Avenue and Mamo Street, has been pushed back numerous times.

It was to have started Sept. 1, but approval of tsunami engineering specifications had to take place before actual construction could start. The market is in a tsunami inundation zone, which means it requires a Special Management Area permit.

Barett Otani, an executive assistant to Mayor Harry Kim tasked with overseeing developments at the market, said he’s happy the project is finally under way.

“We thought about starting taking it down a little bit earlier,” Otani said about the temporary canopy that has sheltered the produce side of the market for some time. “But we didn’t want to disrupt the holiday season for the vendors there.”

The peak market days are on Wednesdays and Saturdays, when an increased number of vendors, including purveyors of locally made arts and crafts, sell their wares to the public.

De La Cruz said he has a contingency plan.

“We’re setting up temporary locations behind Poke N Sides at 57 Mamo, so on Wednesdays and Saturdays, the big market’s going to be on that property, right behind Poke N Sides. We’ll pretty much have the same layout,” he said.

De La Cruz said people he talks to “are excited now that we’re moving forward.”

“It’s going to be an exciting year for the market, for our customers and for our vendors,” he said.

The cost for the entire project, which includes solar panels on the crafts side of the market, on the Keaukaha side of Mamo, has been estimated at $400,000.

The project has been on-again, off-again since March 17, 2008. On March 16, 2018, a five-year extension of a five-year Special Management Area permit for the project expired without a permanent structure being built, despite several sets of plans, each one scaled back from the previous set.

At that point, the county sent De La Cruz a letter saying he’d reached the deadline to complete the permanent structure. The letter said the market, which at that time was sheltered by tarps, was in violation of the county’s zoning, building and fire codes and would be fined $1,000 a day for each of the parcels the market occupies for each day violations continued to occur.

Otani told the Tribune-Herald in August the fires, which had reached $212,000, were halted when the last set of plans were submitted. The county then halved the fines to $106,000, and suspended $81,000 of that total, leaving De La Cruz with $25,000 in fines still on the books.

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“We’re using that to see that benchmarks and deadlines are met,” Otani said. He said a specific deadline for completion of construction hasn’t been set, but added he is pleased De La Cruz is moving forward.

“It’s going to be good for downtown Hilo, as well as for the mayor’s comprehensive plan,” Otani concluded.

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