‘Cautiously optimistic’: Kailua Village Business Improvement District updates council

  • King Kamehameha's Kona Beach Hotel is expected to reopen on Nov. 16. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • A woman walks by Coconut Grove Marketplace on Alii Drive in Kailua Village on Friday. Despite the damage incurred amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Kailua Village Business Improvement District says services will likely go unchanged this fiscal year. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

Despite the damage incurred amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Kailua Village Business Improvement District says services in downtown Kailua-Kona will likely go unchanged this fiscal year.

“Looking forward, we are cautiously optimistic that assessment revenue will continue to provide for services at the same level throughout this current fiscal year,” said Ross Wilson, presenting the organization’s annual report to the Hawaii County Council Committee on Finance Thursday. Fiscal year 2020-21 runs through June 30, 2021.

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That outlook even considers the closing of restaurants and retail businesses over the past months, including Alley Geckos, Bongo Ben’s and Kona Jewelers, among others as the island struggles without visitors. Albeit some new outlets did open, including Kona Seafood Market and Sweet Journey Soft Serve.

“A recent survey that the Kailua Village Business Improvement District conducted of district business owners indicated pessimism and instability for the coming year,” said Ross.

However, the nonprofit remains hopeful things will pick up.

“We are hopeful that the safe launch of tourism will put employees back to work and stabilize small businesses,” he said, adding that King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel will reopen Nov. 16 following the Royal Kona Resort’s reopening in mid-October with the resumption of trans-Pacific travel.

KVBID Executive Director Debbie Baker added after the meeting that when the next round of revenue comes in from property tax assessments in February, the district will have a better idea of where things stand. In fiscal year 2019-20, which ended June 30, the district received $828,000, up $10,000 from the previous fiscal year.

“The BID has always been conservative in its budgeting, so there is cushion to provide for any shortfalls. So our projections are now that we will be able to continue our present service level through June,” she said, later adding “February collections will tell a story.”

The Kailua Village Business Improvement District, which extends from Walua Road mauka to the Henry Street area and north to Makala Boulevard area, was established in 2007 via county ordinance. Property owners within the boundaries pay mandatory assessments based on property tax valuations and that money is used to enhance, but not replace county services, in public areas.

Those services include cleaning and landscaping, providing security ambassadors, as well as implementing place-making and beautification projects such as lighting trees and improving public areas and holding events to promote the area and its businesses, such as Kokua Kailua and Kailua Kalikimaka.

In fiscal 2019-20, the business improvement district reported removing more than 34 tons of trash and 27 tons of greenwaste in addition to 2,561 stickers and posters and other graffiti from public areas. The district also reported 420 “open container” warnings and more than 2,400 hospitality and motorist assists.

Ross said the district is continues to work to address chronic homelessness and criminal elements in the village area, which Kona Councilwoman Rebecca Villegas said created a situation last week that required police and KVBID security to intercede.

“The homeless issue is the biggest issue we’re facing in the village and working together there are a lot of compassionate groups and people, but we need to find solutions so that our community, our businesses and everybody is safe,” said Ross.

Money has already been budgeted to increase lighting in the village by illuminating the historic banyan tree fronting Hulihee Palace followed by the banyan tree at Emma’s Square.

“Lighting up these dark areas of the village will help us to alleviate some of the criminal elements from those dark areas,” said Wilson, noting that the lighting of the banyan tree fronting King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel helped with the situation there.

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Hawaii Police Department Area II Assistant Chief Robert Wagner said Monday that homelessness remains the “main issue” in the Kailua Village area. Last week alone, after being notified by and working with the KVBID, 16 citations were issued at various locations, including several to proclamation violators at Niumalu Beach, which is located kitty-corner to Scandinavian Shave Ice.

“The KVBID and staff on the ground with Nic and his crew has been doing a great job in doing all they can to keep the Village safe. They are constantly communicating issues to the police, and they often work with us,” Wagner said, adding their efforts are very helpful given the limitations in manpower and additional responsibilities officers have assumed amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

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