Couple plans to open first Molokai movie theater in 12 years

  • RWH Chen Building in Kaunakakai, Molokai, is seen during the 2019 Festivals of Aloha Parade. (Wayne Shinbara/Special to West Hawaii Today)

WAILUKU, Maui — Molokai could have its first movie theater in 12 years if the project is approved by local regulators.

The owners of the RWH Chen Building in Kaunakakai plan to open a 48-seat theater, The Maui News reported Tuesday.

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Brad and Grace Ellis recently renovated the space on the island in Maui County.

The theater would be located in the third of three units in the building, sharing the structure with two apparel stores.

“When we started renovating it, we were amazed at the number of people who were saying we could use a movie theater,” Brad Ellis said.

“So we got to thinking about it, researched and studied and decided maybe this would work and be a nice thing for the community to do,” he said.

The last movie theater on Molokai was the Maunaloa Town Cinemas, which closed in 2008 after the Molokai Ranch property with a lodge, golf course and cattle operations closed and laid off more than 120 employees.

Molokai Planning Commission Chairwoman Lori Buchanan is concerned about the proposed project, mostly because the community has not yet been able to comment, she said.

Maui County Deputy Planning Director Jordan Hart said the project does not need a public hearing because a movie theater is a permitted use in the Country Town Business District.

But the renovation was brought before the commission because Kaunakakai is within a special management area, Hart said.

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Ellis said he and his wife are happy to discuss the cinema project with the public.

“Lots of friends who were born and raised have to go off island to see movies,” Brad Ellis said. “It would be a great thing to bring back to the island.”

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